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Why are Prison Terms Getting Longer and are They Worth the Cost?
Friday, June 08, 2012
Why are Prison Terms Getting Longer and are They Worth the Cost?
The United States has reached a point whereby locking up offenders for longer and longer periods of time is no longer cost-effective or a factor in deterring crime, according to the Pew Center on the States.
 
Over the last 40 years, prison sentences have grown by 700%, resulting in greater costs for federal and especially state correctional systems. Even modest increases in time served have proven to be expensive, Pew researchers argue.
 
For instance, convicts released in 2009 served an average of nearly three years in custody. This represents a 36% increase over the average time that offenders served after getting out in 1990. The cost of this increase comes out to an average of $23,300 per inmates.
 
“When multiplied by the hundreds of thousands of inmates released each year, the financial impact of longer length of stay is considerable,” the Pew report states.
 
In some states, time served grew significantly between 1990 and 2009. These included Florida (166%), Virginia (91%), North Carolina (86%) and Oklahoma (83%).
 
The Pew Center claims criminologists and policy makers realize the U.S. is now at a point “where additional imprisonment will have little if any effect on crime.” Instead, greater attention must be paid to “new offender supervision strategies and technologies that can help break the cycle of recidivism.”
 
According to another study, by the University of San Francisco School of Law Center for Law and Human Justice, “The United States is the only country in the world that in practice sentences juveniles to life without parole,” and “3,700 people who have never committed a violent crime are serving 25 years to life in California alone.” The U.S. is also one of only three countries in the world that are known allow a defendant to be prosecuted for the same crime in both federal and state courts. The others are Canada and Micronesia.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky
 
To Learn More:
Cruel and Unusual: U.S. Sentencing Practices in a Global Context (by Connie de la Vega, Amanda Solter, Soo-Ryun Kwon and Dana Marie Isaac, University of San Francisco School of Law Center for Law and Human Justice) (pdf)
Black Americans Given Longer Sentences than White Americans for Same Crimes (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
 
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