Criminal justice sentencing in the United States has historically differed based on how much discretion judges have in determining sentences. Discretion refers to a judge’s ability to determine a sentence based on his/her own ideals and experience. Indeterminate sentencing allows judges to sentence an offender based on a range of time. For example, if you hear someone say they’ve been sentenced to 25 to life, that is an indeterminate sentence. Essentially it means that the sentenced person could be released in as early as 25 years if a parole board determines the offender is rehabilitated or ready to leave prison. Or, the sentenced person could end up staying in prison for the rest of his/her life if a parole board determines that he/she is never ready to leave prison. Historically, indeterminate sentencing has been criticized as giving too much power to parole boards, allowing judges to discriminate based on factors not related to the offender’s crime like race and class, and being inconsistent across cases. In other words, critics believe that different people are treated differently in the criminal justice system even if they committed the same crimes.
As a response, some states have implemented determinate sentencing including sentencing guidelines. These types of sentences are meant to reduce discrimination and allow offenders to know exactly when they will be released from prison. In these cases, a convicted person is sentenced to a set number of years, such as 20 years. There is no discretionary parole board that decides when the offender is released. It’s just based on math (number of years/months sentenced minus any credit for good behavior or programming). While these types of sentences are meant to be less discriminatory, they have been criticized for creating situations where judges cannot consider circumstances like history of abuse or only playing a minor role in a crime when sentencing. The judges must simply follow the guidelines set by the state. If the state says a burglary deserves a 10 year sentence, then the judge must sentence each burglar to 10 years, regardless of circumstance. In essence, the criticism is that these laws tend to give long sentences to people who may not deserve them. They’ve also been criticized for overcrowding prisons by unnecessarily incarcerating people who may have benefited from other punishments like probation.
After reviewing the chapter, discuss which type of sentencing you find more effective, determinate or indeterminate. Which would you like to see Illinois adopt and why? Provide at least two main ideas for why you chose the type of sentencing.
Make sure to support your answer with information from the text and/or other credible sources. (Think of this as a short essay, which means that you should include citation, paragraphs, and a reference list at the end.
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