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Southern New Hampshire University
CJ-210 The U.S. Correctional System
2-2 Discussion: Make Your Case
Prompt:
Take a position. Do you agree that sentencing reform is needed to lower incarceration rates?
Then, using the information gained in this module and the resources noted above, make your
case. Be sure to build your case with factual resources. Consider the following questions as you
make your case:
Do you believe that criminal sentencing laws have led to increased incarceration rates?
Why or why not? What are the pros and cons of sentencing reform?
What are the predicted outcomes of each?
Should judicial discretion be included as a sentencing reform? Why or why not?
This discussion is written from the stance that sentencing reforms should be enacted.
I am going to have to agree with the majority in that sentencing reforms should be enacted to
lower incarceration rates. By doing so, it broadens substitutes to incarceration and minimizes
sentences for non-violent offenders. Presently, the three primary sentencing reforms are
sentencing guidelines, mandatory minimums, and determinate sentences. Before I delve further, I
am going to briefly summarize the definition of each sentencing reform. First is sentencing
guidelines. Sentencing guidelines are "federal and state guidelines that were created to limit
judicial discretion so that people committing similar crimes received similar terms of
incarceration. They created structured punishments. The more severe the crime, the longer the
sentence" (Siegel, 2017, p. 47). Secondly, a mandatory minimum sentence "specifies a certain
required number of years of incarceration for specific crimes" (Siegel, 2017, p. 49). Lastly, is
determinate sentencing. Determinate sentences are sentences that must be served for a definite
period of time.
In addition to my belief that criminal sentencing laws have led to increased prison populations,
there is evidence that they do indeed contribute to a rise in prison populations. While the
application of sentencing guidelines inhibits objectionable sentencing inequalities, the use of
sentencing guidelines to regulate prison populations has been ineffective. As for mandatory
minimums, their purpose is to "provide equal treatment for all offenders who commit the same
crime;" (Siegel, 2017, p. 49) however, they substantially heighten incarceration rates due to
longer sentencing and because many offenders who formerly would have been put on probation
are now being incarcerated. The same can be said for determinate sentences. They have been
considered as a factor in prison overcrowding and are partly responsible for increased
incarceration rates because of its mandatory prison time. The general consensus seems to be that
we want to change the offenders, but we clash in how we think this modification will be
achieved. There are those who push for administrations of deterrence and incapacitation, while
others concentrate on rehabilitation. As stated in last week's discussion, I am one of those that
believe the focus should be on rehabilitation. Between 1930 and 1975, the U.S. incarceration rate
was somewhat balanced, as this was the generation of rehabilitation and indeterminate
sentencing. Since then, drug offenders have been the leading factor of the general surge in
incarceration numbers. However, according to MacKENZIE (2001), "if violent offenses are
combined (murder, sexual assault, robbery, assault, and other violent crimes), then the growth in
the incarceration rate was greater than the growth in the drug incarceration rate."
Regarding whether judicial discretion should be included as a sentencing reform, I say no.
Absolute judicial discretion has the power to be abused, which can result in a gross injustice in
terms of sentencing. Many states generally follow sentencing guidelines, which do allow judges
a level of discretion in sentencing by referencing their states sentencing grid (if applicable).
Futher, most jurisdictions permit judges to deviate from the sentencing guidelines; however, if
they choose to do so, they are required to justify in writing the reasoning for the deviation. In my
opinion, judges should always follow sentencing guidelines to not only hold them accountable,
but as an extra measure to protect offenders from being sentenced either too harshly or too
leniently.
References
MacKENZIE, D. L. (2001). Corrections and Sentencing in the 21st Century: Evidence-Based
Corrections and Sentencing. The Prison Journal, 81(3), 299–312. https://doi-
org.ezproxy.snhu.edu/10.1177/0032885501081003001
Siegel, L. J. (2017). Corrections Today, 4th Edition. Cengage Learning.
https://bookshelf.vitalsource.com/books/9781337514859
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