United States Has the Highest Essay

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However, 78% of sentences imposed by United States federal courts in 2005 involved incarceration, whereas 3% of sentences involved only fines and in 2004 70% of convicted felons in state courts were sentenced to incarceration. Essentially, in the United States people are more likely to be sentenced to prison for federal and drug offenses than other countries and these sentences are lengthier in duration. A person sentenced in the United States for burglary will serve about 16 months in prison, whereas in Canada they will serve about 5 months and in England about 7 months. In England only 12% of prisoners, compared to 41% in the United States have been sentenced to 10 years or more. Six percent of prisoners in England convicted of drug offenses serve prison sentences of 10 years or greater compared to 27% of those in the United States (Graziadei & Lynch, 1994).

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So people who commit nonviolent crimes in other parts of the world are less likely to receive prison time for their transgressions and certainly are less likely to receive long sentences. The United States is, for instance, the only advanced country that incarcerates people for minor property crimes like passing bad checks. As mentioned above the efforts in the 1980s to combat illegal drugs could play a major role in explaining long prison sentences in the United States as well. For instance in 1980 there were nearly 40,000 people incarcerated in America for drug crimes. In 2008 there were nearly 500,000. If incarceration rates were compiled based on annual admissions to prison per capita, several European countries would outpace the United States; however, American prison stays are much longer, so the total incarceration rate is higher (Aromaa & Heiskanen, 2008).

TOPIC: Essay on United States Has the Highest Assignment

Thus, the reason why the United States has a higher incarceration rate than other countries does not lie in a significantly overall higher crime rate or a society that fosters inequality on disadvantaged individuals, but instead on judicial policies of handing out jail sentences for crimes not punished by incarceration in other countries and handing out longer terms of incarceration than other countries. On average, seven out of ten defendants convicted in United States courts between 1995 and 2000 received some form of incarceration as part of their sentence, whereas for other countries the corresponding rate was less than one in ten.

Other countries facing similar issues have managed to significantly reduce their rates of incarceration. Lappi-Seppala (2001) discussed the case of Finland, which in the 1950s boasted an incarceration rate of about 200 prisoners per 100,000 people. While this incarceration rate is significantly smaller than the current rate in the United States, in the 1950s it was nearly twice that of the United States and was three to four times larger than surrounding Nordic countries. There were three possible factors that explained Finland's high incarceration rates: (1) a cultural climate in which the severity of a crime was not judged similarly relative to other Nordic countries, (2) a more rigid penal system with higher minimum penalties, and (3) severe sentences for relatively common crimes such as driving under the influence of alcohol. These factors are very similar to the current zeitgeist of the United States.

Lappi-Seppala (2001) believes that changes in all these three aspects of the Finnish court system and culture were responsible for decrease in incarceration rates; however, the most crucial factor that served as a vehicle for change was the shift in the ideological perspective of policy makers. There was an outspoken political criticism targeted at coercive treatment and the restriction of liberty which eventually assisted in redefining criminal justice policy. The traditional aims of the criminal justice policy were replaced by the goals of minimizing the costs, the adverse effects of crime, and crime control as well as the fair distribution of these costs among the offender, society, and the victim. This new attitude led to reforms in the criminal justice system. Some of the reforms Finland instituted included reduced penalties for traditional property crimes, the expanded use of noncustodial alternatives for offenders, and the development of new sentencing guidelines designed to reduce the number of incarcerations. Previously there were high minimum penalties and strict sentencing guidelines for many forms of theft that incarcerated a large number of offenders in Finnish prisons (Lappi-Seppala, 2001). The new attitude resulted in considerable legislative changes being made regarding the sentencing of those convicted of theft and of drunken driving offenses between 1970 and 1991. A legislative reform enacted in 1972 redefined serious forms of theft introducing a new guidelines for penalties that resulted in a substantial decrease in the percentage of convicted offenders of larceny and other forms of theft as well as a decrease in sentence lengths of those who were convicted of these offenses. Reforms to drunk driving offenses focused on using noncustodial alternatives instead of unconditional sentences of imprisonment resulting in a substantial decrease in those incarcerated for drunk driving (70% in 1971 to 12% in 1981).

Another important change in the Finnish sentencing practices was the introduction of community service for convicted offenders as an alternative to imprisonment. Community service as an alternative sentence for offenders of certain nonviolent crimes was used in lieu of short terms of imprisonment (Lappi-Seppala, 2004). First the court would determine a sentence for a convicted offender using the traditional sentencing criteria. In the case of an offender being sentenced to imprisonment the court was given the leeway to decide whether to commute the prison sentence to community service. In order for that to happen there typically three conditions that had to be met. The first criteria was that convicted offended would consent to perform community service in lieu of imprisonment. Second, the court would have to reach a decision that the offender was actually able to carry out the requirements of community service. Finally, a review of the offender's history must indicate that there is nothing in the prior criminal history of the person that would disqualify the use of community service in lieu of incarceration. There were several "test" years before community service orders started being used nationwide in 1994. Community service orders have largely accomplished their intended goal of reducing incarceration rates in Finnish prisons and since 1994, approximately 30% of convicted offenders sentenced to a prison term received a community service order instead. Finnish incarceration rates dramatically declined despite relatively stable crime rates using these criteria (Lappi-Seppala, 2004).

The example of how Finland was able to lower its annual incarceration rate by instituting relatively simple policy changes is applicable to the United States. Both the current criminal justice United States and the system in Finland in the 1950s share certain basic features and the United States could use the Finnish example as a model of how to reduce its prison population. Implementing similar changes in the United States would require additional decreased penalties for minor drug offenses and nonviolent crimes. The implementation of substance-abuse rehabilitation along with lengthy community service options and probation terms for drug offenders and those convicted of minor theft and other nonviolent crimes would assist in decreasing annual incarceration rates in the long run. The United States could also decriminalize many petty offenses and instead treat them as administrative or civil infractions punishable by fines only, decriminalize petty drug offenses in a like manner, and discourage jail sentences of less than six months duration. In addition to reducing the burden of incarceration, community service options could fill a much-needed niche in society and be a part of the rehabilitative process for these offenders by giving the purpose, structure, opening up contacts for them, and in some cases teaching them useful skills. The restructuring of sentencing guidelines to narrow ranges of incarceration could also make for a more equitable distribution of justice to convicted offenders.

References

Aromaa, K., & Heiskanen, M. (2008). European institute for crime prevention and control. In crime and criminal justice systems in Europe and North America,

1995 -- 2004. Retrieved June, 16, 2011, from http://www.heuni.fi/43087.htm.

Blumstein, A., & Beck, A.J. (1999). Population growth in United States prisons, 1980

1996.

Crime and Justice, 26, 17 -- 61.

Gideon, L. (2011). Corrections in an era of reentry. In L. Gideon & H. Sung (Eds.)

Rethinking corrections: Rehabilitation, reentry, and reintegration, (1-19).

Thousand Oaks: Sage

Publishers.

Graziadei, H. & Lynch, J. (2004). United States Department of Justice, Office of Justice

Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics. In Profile of inmates in the United States

and in England and Wales, 1991. Retrieved June, 16, 2011, from http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/cjusew96.pdf.

Guetzkow, J, & Western, B. (2007). The political consequences of mass imprisonment.

In J. Hacker, S. Mettler, and J. Soss (Eds.) Remaking America: Democracy and public policy in an age of inequality, (228-242). New York: Russell Sage

Foundation.

International Center for Prison Studies. (2008). In World Prison Brief. Retrieved June,

17, 2011, from http://www.kcl.ac.uk/schools/law/research/icps.

Lappi-Seppala, T. (2001). Sentencing and punishment in Finland: The decline of the repressive ideal. In M. Tonry & R.S. Frase (Eds.), Sentencing and sanctions… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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