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A Change of Course: Developments in State Sentencing Policy and Their Implications for the Federal System

March 15, 2010
Ryan King
This article published in the Federal Sentencing Reporter provides an assessment of state sentencing and parole reforms since 2001, and their implications for federal sentencing and corrections.

The last four decades have borne witness to a historic expansion in the use of incarceration as a method of combating crime.

While incarceration was originally conceived of as an alternative to corporal punishment, and used in the absence of other, less-intrusive measures to force compliance with community norms, the last 40 years have seen nothing less than a tectonic shift. Incarceration has moved from the option of last resort for the most recalcitrant individuals to the predominant public policy model of addressing crime. Consequently, the prison population has expanded exponentially.

In 1970, 96 out of 100,000 Americans were detained in prisons (not including local jails), or 1 in 1,042. By the middle of 2008, that figure had increased by more than 400% to 509 per 100,000, or 1 in 196. This rapid growth was not the product of unprecedented crime rates, but rather a function of deliberate decisions by policymakers to pass laws that dramatically increased prison admissions and extended the length of stay.

To read the article, download the PDF below.

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