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There are more than a few types of sentencing, each one designed to offer effective measures of reducing peoples’ tendency to relapse into crime, while serving as a general and specific restraint. There are three sentencing systems: those that apply determinate-sentencing statutes; those that employ indeterminate-sentencing statutes; and those that use sentencing guidelines. There are overlaps in some of the categories, for instance, a mandatory sentence is considered a type of determinate sentence. This essay is going to look at three of these sentencing types, which are; indeterminate, determinate and mandatory sentencing.

Indeterminate sentencing

Indeterminate sentencing is a system in which an offender is sentenced to a minimum and maximum amount of time, for instance 5-20 years. The offender would be put for parole after 5 years, and if the parole board senses that he/she was rehabilitated, the he/she would be released. The important idea behind indeterminate –sentencing statutes is rehabilitation; the needs of the individual offender should be met in the sentence, and he or she should be locked up until it is proved that the offender has cured. Parole boards in states with indeterminate sentencing can release inmates once they have served the minimum part of their sentences. There is also what is called good-time laws which further reduce the amount of time served. It reduces a portion of one’s sentence for good behavior while in prison.

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This type of sentencing has benefits of sentence-reduction programs, like good- time laws and early parole release. These includes

  • There is promotion of discipline in the prisons, because there is the motivation that they will get “good time” if they engage in good behavior
  • There is reduction in overcrowding in the prisons

The critics of this type of sentencing have presented the following issues as big concerns in the justice system. In most cases they complain that the justice system gets compromised by this type of sentencing.

  • Offenders are usually released before serving their full sentences in prison
  • It produces gross sentencing disparities in that it allows judges a lot of discretion.
  • Uncertainty of release from prison on parole
  • Lessened deterrent effect of prison terms due to the uncertainty of how much time will actually be served
  • There is parole board’s difficulty in accurately predicting when a person has been rehabilitated
  • There is difficulty in planning for future prison populations (French 1977)

Determinate Sentencing

This type of sentencing requires a confinement that has a fixed period, with possible reduction for parole. The legislature sets terms for specific crimes; this takes away some sentencing discretion of judges. It involves sentencing guidelines, mandatory minimum sentences, and also enhanced sentences for some specific crimes. Sentencing guidelines gives judges freedom to look at the individual circumstances of the case when determining a sentence, while on the other hand mandatory minimum and enhanced-sentence statutes give judges little or no discretion in setting the terms of a sentence. , Many measures of the determinate sentencing that were adopted in the1980s and 1990s were basically by-products of the war on drugs. These required strict, harsh, and non-negotiable sentences for those possessing narcotics. This has led to unintended and inconsistent results. For instance, those repeat offenders, so long as they had information that is useful to the police, would get lighter sentences in return with their testimony as compared to first-time nonviolent offenders. So whether determinate sentences help to deter crime remains an open question. Those with statistical evidence support their arguments. They claim that from 1986 to 1991, when determinate sentencing was being used extensively, violent crimes have escalated. Others say that the FBI’s Uniform Crime Index shows a drop in serious crime by four percent between 1985 and 1993, suggesting that may be the crime rate is being affected by the stringent sentencing. All these, but it is still being used.

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In determinate sentences,

  • Power in the sentencing process is moved from the judges to the prosecutors
  • It increases the likelihood that offenders will be sent to prison
  • Criminals must serve the whole sentence

This type of sentencing

  • Lengthen sentences, increases the proportion of sentences that one serves in prison before release
  • It contributes a lot to overcrowding in prisons; its laws restrict offenders from early release requiring them to serve a substantial portion of their sentences (Sentence Statutes and Guidelines).

Mandatory sentencing

This is a criminal sentence set by a legislature that establishes the minimum length of prison time for specified crimes and thus limits the amount of discretion a judge has when sentencing a defendant. Almost all the states in the United States  use mandatory sentencing laws for crimes such as, selling drugs, committing a crime with a dangerous weapon and drunk driving. In these laws judges are denied their traditional powers of discretion, they can’t reduce terms for offences that carry prescribed mandatory-minimum sentences and also they can’t impose alternative sentences in the society. This form of sentencing enhances the powers of prosecutors; they decide what charges to be filed against defendants.

There is another type of mandatory sentencing, called the “Three-strikes-and –you’re-out laws” This was aimed at getting repeat offenders off the streets. Its laws require people to be sentenced for long sentences of up to life imprisonment without parole if one is convicted for a third felony.

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The pros of mandatory sentencing are;

  • It reduces crime
  • It is fair for all criminals and makes sure that there is uniformity in sentencing
  • Potential criminals and repeat offenders avoid crime because they know they will be sentenced if caught
  • There is incarceration of many petty offenders who can be dealt with through less costly community sanctions
  • It contributes to prison crowding
  • The three-strikes laws led to decreases in plea bargains and increase in trials, for defendants no they have nothing to lose if they go on trial.
  • Mandatory minimums  can not be predicted because prosecutors and judges can go round them (U S sentencing  commission, 2010)

This essay has looked at the three forms of sentencing that are used by the courts. It looked at the indeterminate sentencing where an offender is sentenced to a minimum and a maximum amount of time. Offenders would be put for parole after which the parole board can decide on whether to or not to release the offender. There is also the determinate type of sentencing where a fixed confinement period is required with possible reduction for parole. Terms for specific crimes are set by the legislature taking away sentencing discretions from the judges. Then lastly it has looked at the other type of sentencing which was the mandatory sentencing. In this type, a criminal sentence is also set by the legislature that establishes the minimum length of prison time for specific crimes thereby also limiting the amount of discretion a judge has when sentencing a defendant. All the three have their advantages and disadvantages as has be clearly outlined in the essay. All the three sentences are important as they help to give justice to the people involved. The sentences have served as channels to ensure that justice is not compromised in any way.

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