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Reduce Sentence Length

When it has been determined that an offender must be imprisoned, the next question becomes, "For how long?" There is no single right anwer to that question, although there may be wrong answers (for example, the sentence is far too long given the nature of the offense and the offender). Some countries have developed mechanisms, such as parole, to release those who have served enough time, even though it was not the full sentence.

Others have used "good time", meaning a reduction of the sentence because of their positive behaviour in prison. These are often granted according to a formula, and the amount  reduced can be considerable.

Linking these two to the problem of overcrowding has seemed obvious to some and counter-intuitive to others. The proponents of using them to reduce crowding argue that if there is not enough space, then release should be given to those who pose the least risk, and that one way of determining that is to look at their conduct in prison. This includes not only good behaviour, but also participating on treatment or development programmes while in prison.

Those who oppose this use of parole and good time argue that just because someone behaves well in prison does not mean that they will make a successful transition into the community. It only means that they are good prisoners. Furthermore, they raise an equity argument: is it fair to reduce the sentences of some because an authority has decided that they deserved it? What if that decisionmaker is prejudiced or has less contact with some prisoners than with others?

Nevertheless, the pragmatic arguments for reducing sentences of prisoners have prevailed in a number of countries who have chosen, in greater or lesser degrees, to use this mechanism to ease prison crowding.

Accelerated release: A literature review. Caroline Guzman, et. al., (2008). Focus: Views from the National Council on Crime and Deliquency.
This literature review included more than 12 peer-reviewed articles, dissertations, state reports, policy-related reports, and national data reports, all of which evaluate accelerated release programs and their impact on public safety. The programs took place at various times over a 23-year period and in a number of states and cities in the US and Canada. The reports draw on data from 1981 to 2004. (excerpt)
Downscaling prisons: Lessons from four States. Judith Greene and Marc Mauer. (2010). Washington, DC: The Sentencing Project. [EN]
This report contains a description of the many pragmatic reforms and policies that have helped to produce these prison population reductions. What is clear in each of these cases is that the reductions only came about through conscious efforts to change policies and practices, that these states relied on many different types of reform initiatives to improve their criminal justice systems, and that these initiatives had the twin goals of reducing the prison population and promoting cost-effective approaches to public safety. (excerpt)
National Offender Management Service: Dealing with Increased Numbers in Custody (The National Audit Office) 2005 [EN]
At the end of September 2005 prisons in England and Wales held their highest ever recorded population of 77,300. The prison population is dependent on the number and length of custodial sentences imposed by the courts and numbers of prisoners has increased by 25,000 over the last ten years. Several Home Office initiatives to reform the criminal justice system could limit the future growth of the prisoner population, such as the introduction of the Sentencing Guidelines Council which provides advice on sentencing practices... (excerpt)
Preventing Jail Crowding: A Practical Guide (National Institute of Corrections) 2002 [En]
An explanation on how to use the jail population analysis formula is offered. This paper looks at: the sources of jail crowding; the dynamics that create changes in jail occupancy levels; swings in jail occupancy levels; a jail population analysis system; reducing the inmate population in a crowded jail; policy choices; and the key to preventing crowding. (excerpt)
Factors Impacting Prison Overcrowding: Findings and Recommendations (Connecticut General Assembly. Legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee) 2000 [En]
Reasons for prison overcrowding and ways to address this problem beyond utilizing the ineffective prison expansion model are discussed. Following an introduction, sections of this report look at: factors impacting prison overcrowding; options to manage growth in prison population; recommendations for community corrections policy; and recommendations for community corrections procedure. (excerpt)
A Plan to Reduce Prison Overcrowding and Violent Crime, American Legislative Exchange Council, 2007
It is imperative that the use of limited prison space is maximized and that criminals are better supervised in order to reduce crime. Properly freeing inmates who are not threats to law-abiding citizens allows the justice system to ensure that those who are a threat remain incarcerated for the duration of their sentence.
Strengthen Community Corrections
This “Policy Framework to Strengthen Community Corrections” offers policy makers a menu of five provisions that help corrections agencies implement “evidence-based practices” by providing fiscal incentives, clearing obstacles, enhancing their authority, and tracking their results. The individual sections will have impact if adopted alone; taken together, however, they offer policy makers a powerful opportunity to help reduce victimization and control corrections spending. The report was prepared by The Pew Center on the States in 2008.
Attitudes Regarding the Compassionate Release of Terminally Ill Offenders, Jennifer L. Boothby ; Lorraine Y. Overduin, The Prison Journal Volume:87 Issue:4 Dated:December 2007 Pages:408 to 415
This study examined college students’ attitudes toward the compassionate release of terminally ill offenders and general attitudes toward prisoners and fear of AIDS.
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