Because of the increase in crime in America, the public has demanded an increase in the amount of protection received from police. This increase in police protection has increased the incarceration level by numerous amounts within the last ten years. The number of inmates incarcerated in America is a direct cause of the policing that is going on in the streets of American cities. The method of policing has a tremendous impact on the outcome of the situation, meaning the type of policing determines the amount of arrests mad and the amount of inmates incarcerated. The historical pattern of prison sentencing has always shown that the offenders almost always served a much shorter sentence than the amount of time they were given by the court. Prisoners have always had different methods available to assist in decreasing the amount of time they have to serve. Many were released on parole after serving possibly less than 40 percent of their sentence. There was also time suspended due to good behavior which put the criminals back on the street. Offenders could be allowed work credits which could go towards their early release. This was considered the normal practices of prison up until the end of the 20th century. Around this time the citizens of cities started complaining more and demanding more police intervention and less crime. In 1994 laws were implemented that made it harder and in some cases impossible to be released from prison without serving at least 85 percent of their original sentence assigned by the court. This new policy has been implemented at the state and federal levels. Though history has shown an extensive pattern of early release, this pattern has come to an end because of the new laws set forth in America.
Before 1984 the laws mandating prisons were not very effective in keeping offenders incarcerated, which was considered intolerable by the community. Experiments done on the effectiveness of police during the 1970’s showed that traditional methods of policing were not effective in decreasing the amount of crime on the streets. Until the early 1970’s most states used the indeterminate sentencing method which allowed parole boards the authority to allow offenders to be released early. The idea of indeterminate sentencing came about in the mid-1800’s and was preferred over determinate sentencing because determinate sentencing allowed no room for reform. Because of the dissatisfaction with indeterminate sentencing and the pressure for longer sentencing, there was a policy implemented in the 1980’s which made it mandatory to have a guide for the minimum amount of time served as well as new sentencing guidelines. This method caused inmates to serve more time and because of this, there became a problem with overcrowding. To alleviate the overcrowding, inmates were then available to get sentence reduction because of good behavior and also with certain work programs they could be released early by the building up of earned time credit. In 1984 the first truth in sentencing laws were in acted. These laws required that prisoners serve a substantial portion of their sentence. To ensure that offenders served the majority of their sentence, the violent crime control and law enforcement act of 1994 were passed. This act allowed additional funding for state prisons and jails. It also restricted and in many instances eliminated release for good behavior and good time credits. The three strikes and you’re out laws, in many states, require life imprisonment for third time a felony offenders. In some states offenders only have two strikes before being sentenced. The abolishment of parole in at least fourteen states has also made the percentage of inmates released less. By implementing sentencing requirements, the abolishment of parole, along with other sentencing restrictions and incentives, it has become nearly impossible for offenders to be released with out giving at least the majority of their due time to society.
Because of the reform act of 1984 release practices in federal systems underwent a series of changes. There have been mandatory penalties established in federal sentencing most notably for drug offenses. In 1987, 26684 offenders entered the federal prison system. They were sentenced on average forty-two months but only served approximately twenty-three months. That is only fifty-eight percent of their sentence. The number of inmates released at the federal and state level has decreased substantially over the last twenty years. From 1986 through 1997 the sentence for federal offences increased from thirty-nine months to an average of fifty-four months. Offenders who entered the system in 1986 served only 58 percent of their sentenced time while as of 1997 offenders were serving 87percent of sentenced time; increasing the overall served time by twenty-five months. For weapon offenses inmates’ time served increased from twenty-three to seventy-five months. Drug offenders increased by thirty-six months and bank robbery by nine months. Because of the new sentencing laws and changes in the criteria for releasing inmates, the amount of inmates in prison for federal crimes increased from 38,156 to 98,944. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, “approximately 65% of the increase in federal prison population is attributed to an increase in time served”(Sabol,W. June 1999,1). The length of time for immigration offenders also increased. Time served under new laws increased from 3.6 months in 1998 to 15.1 months in 1997. Although it has become rare for offenders to be released because of parole and other incentive programs such as good credit earned, district courts can still grant reductions in sentences up to one year after sentenced for assisting the government. In 1988 twenty-seven inmates were given reduction in sentences for assisting the government. The original lengths of sentences were approximately 94.1 months but were re-sentenced to 60.7 months. A reduction of thirty-three percent. Because of the pressure to crack down on the drug problem in America, the amount of prisoners assisting the government rose between 1989 and 1993 to ver 1000. In 1992 1078 inmates received re-sentencing. An original amount of 116.2 months to serve was decreased to 70.3 months. The reduction in the sentence was approximately forty-five percent. With the introduction of the violent crimes act in 1994, the amount of government assisted releases decreased. Though the amount of inmates under the program was still in the thousands, the amount was still a major decrease from the pattern of rising numbers in he early 1990’s. In 1996, 1076 inmates were under re-sentenced which decreased their sentences from 97.3 months to 61.2 months. State prisons also have gone through major changes because of the violent crimes act and truth in sentencing laws. Offenders sentenced in 1990 were sentenced to an average of forty months. By 1996 the sentences had increased to forty-two months. According to the truth in sentencing in state prisons report released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, “nearly seven in ten violent offenders are in a state that requires 85% of the sentence to be served” (Ditton, P. Jan 1999,1). Offenders incarcerated for robbery in 1996 were expected to serve seven months longer than those sentenced in 1990. The overall population has increased because of the new laws. By the end of 1998, the population of women had increased by 6.5 percent. Drug offenders accounted for most of the increase in females. The Hispanic inmate population increased sixty-two percent from 1990 to 1997. The increasing prison population can be attributed to the harsher laws now in place, which are making it harder for inmates to be released.
The increase in the amount of the time served and time received because of the new laws has shown an increase in the individual who is being sentenced and the type of offense they are sentenced for. “According to the National Prison Survey 1991, a disproportionate numbers of prisoners are drawn from inner city areas.”(May, J 2000) It has also been shown that among the black and Asian prisoners, drug offenses were the most common type of offense. A study done by Mumola and Beck in 1997 approximates that 23% of state inmates are incarcerated on drug related charges and 60% of federal inmates are incarcerated due to drug offenses. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics that stated 1.2 million Americans were imprisoned by 1996. Out of that number of people about 75,000 of these incarcerated were women. The growth of female inmates average 11.2% higher than the growth of men, which only average about 7.9%. This group of women seems to follow the same pattern. They seem to be extremely poor, under the age of thirty-five, minority and single. Another population that makes up prisons is those with mental illness. About 1.7 million offenders in jails and prisons are mentally ill. The mental illnesses range usually from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression. The increasing number of African Americans, women and drug offenders in the jails and prison system today indicate that something needs to be done to decrease those numbers but because of the numerous problems in areas where these individuals usually dwell, cause them to come in constant contact with police making them a more accessible target..
By evaluating the policing style and the way they have changed over the last 100 years, one can see how its change has changed the prison population. During the early years when policing was primarily as a form of protection for the elite members of society, many crimes when undetected. Because policing is now based on protecting people as a whole, the amount of crimes that go undetected is far less that numbers of the past.
Beck, Allen J., Mumola, Christopher J. (1999). Prisoner in 1998. Bureau of Justice Statstics.
Ditton, Paula M., Wilson, Doris James (1999). Truth in Sentencing in State Prisons. Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Langworthy, Robert H., Travis, Lawrence (1999). Policing in America: a Balance of Forces. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall,inc.
Matthews, Roger, (1999). Doing time: an introduction to the sociology of imprisonment. New York: St. Martin’s Press, inc.
May, John P. (2000). Building violence: how America’s rush to incarcerate creates more violence. United Kingdom: Sage Publications.
Sabol, William J., Mcgready, John. (1999). Time Served in Prison by Federal Offenders, 1986-97. Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Voorhis, P., Braswell, M., Lester, D. (2000). Correctional Counseling & Rehabilitation (4th ed.). Cincinnati: Anderson Publishing Co.