7.24.2012

The Effect of Mandatory Sentencing and Sentencing Guidelines: Impact on Correctional Systems in the United States



Introduction
English: The number of adults in the U.S. corr...
English: The number of adults in the U.S. correctional population. Parole is the red line. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The function of the correctional system in the United States consists of five goals, deterrence, rehabilitation, incapacitation, punishment, and restitution, according to Seiter, (2008).  During the 1960’s, it was noticed that the offender population was changing, and, did not fit the bill for the population that the system was used to handling.  Instead of the typical young offender who was in decent shape, committed mostly property crimes, and healthy, the correctional facilities began receiving “special offenders” with varied medical, mental health, and confinement needs.  This change in the prison population came about as society changed dramatically outside the walls.  Before 1964, there were mental institutions to care for the mentally ill population, most citizens did not partake of illegal drugs, and disobeying the rules was not fashionable (Birnes & Liebert, 2011).  The 1960‘s and 1970’ were decades of enormous changes, and society continues to change in that same direction today (Seiter, 2008). 
English: Aerial view of Eastern Oregon Correct...
English: Aerial view of Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution in Pendleton, Oregon. Français : Vue aérienne du Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution, prison à Pendleton, Oregon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The changes in the offender population have resulted in a more complicated sentencing, facility, and program requirements than the cheaper ones used before this time (Seiter, 2008).  The needs of the offenders have changed from simple confinement to more serious medical and mental health needs, as well as different levels of confinement for the mentally ill and violent offenders.  This resulted in many different options for sentencing including mandatory sentencing, and sentencing guidelines, and the creation of Drug Courts for the large offender population coming in with addictions along with their sentences.  In this paper, we will explore what impact these changes have had on our criminal justice system and correctional institutions charged with carrying out the sentences.
Mandatory Sentencing and Sentencing Guidelines
Historically, and today, sentencing is defined as the sanctions placed on an offender by the court system for punishment.  The usual sentence before all of these changes involved confinement, and possibly working on a prison farm or whatever industry the facility was involved in.  When the offender population changed the criminal justice, system recognized the need for more complex sentencing.  Two of these changes are mandatory minimum sentencing, and sentencing guidelines that are utilized to deal with the variety of criminals that the prison system must house now.  Judges have far less discretion in the sentencing of offenders today, resulting from the changes in the way they must pass sentence.
These changes are concerned with felony sentences, as misdemeanor crimes have not changed structure due to these guidelines.  Felony sentencing activities begin even before trial, determining inmate classification, bail eligibility, and possible pretrial diversion programs for those with drug addictions and specific problems, which may be better served to remand them to treatment programs.  These diversion programs are also known as deferred prosecution, and as long as the offender completes the program, they will not have a criminal record.  There is also a pretrial investigation in order to help the courts classify potential inmates, and help guide the courts in for the sentencing process.  There are six options provided in the sentencing guidelines for felony offenders should they not be eligible for pretrial diversion programs, economic sanctions, probation, intermediate sanctions, short term confinement, imprisonment, and capital punishment. 
English: Number of arrests in the USA, by drug...
English: Number of arrests in the USA, by drug type. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Many of these sentences are due to drug offenses, for example, in the year 2002, two thirds of jail population had some sort of substance abuse problem (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2004), and in similar studies show that state prison populations of up to 20% in the year prior are there for crimes pertaining to drugs.  According to Seiter (2008), up to 21% of our prison, population is incarcerated for a drug crime whether they are users or not.  Since mandatory sentencing and sentence guidelines have increased the penalties for drug offenses depending on the quantity involved, you could do more time for having illegal substances than committing murder.  In federal prison, the numbers are staggering because of the mandatory sentencing of 5 to 10 years for trafficking and sale of illegal narcotics.  Because of the staggering numbers, it is mandatory that the correctional facilities provide substance abuse programs, and specialized drug courts, which adds costs to the operations of the facilities (Seiter, 2008). 
Mentally Ill and Violent Offenders
In the 1960’s, antipsychotic drugs were invented that allowed for the mentally ill to be brought from the institutions designed for them back into society and community mental health centers (Birnes & Liebert, 2011).  While this sounded good at the time, the numbers of mentally ill patients that have no place to go because the community mental health centers are full are also overcrowding the jails and prisons.  Another problem is the rise in violent crimes and violent offenders.  These criminals along with the mentally ill population and the drug offender population all need special programs, facilities, and housing needs.  The drug population needs to have special programs aimed at substance abuse, violent offenders need more secure housing to ensure that they remain incarcerated, and with capital punishment, the cost to the system for these offenders just for housing and the appeals process at least quadruples the cost on the correctional system and criminal justice system.  Mentally ill offenders need to be housed separately with access to psychological staff (Seiter, 2008).
Conclusion- What is the Impact on Correctional Systems
Because our correctional population has changed from the simple young offender that did not have major health and psychological problems, which was relatively easy to house all together, the correctional system has had to change the way offenders are handled considerably (Seiter, 2008).  A lot of the space in a correctional facility also was used for manufacturing and farming, so the prison could make money selling these things and use less governmental monies to fund the daily operations.  Inmates would go to work, eat, have recreational time, and spend time in their cells, without the staff having to worry, too much about who was housed with whom.  Since the mandatory sentencing laws and guidelines came into play, not only are there more inmates to house, but there are more with special needs, such as those with drug offenses and addictions, mental illness, and violent histories.  Not only did the space of the facilities need to be reconfigured and built but extra staff such as psychological staff for the mentally ill, extra security measures for the violent offenders along with appeal costs for the capital punishment offenders, and the costs of staff for the drug treatment programs create a huge impact on the correctional systems’ budget. The criminal justice system bears the weight of having specialized Drug Courts for drug offenders and added cost and time to adjudicate the vast numbers of offenders.  Then there is the added problem of the gang and narcotics traffic in the prisons, which cause more security needs.  Since mandatory sentencing and sentencing guidelines have been a part of our correctional facility there has been a huge budgetary increase on the both the criminal justice system and the correctional systems along with the problems that come along with housing special needs offenders (Seiter, 2008).
References
Birnes, W.J. J.D., & Liebert, J. M.D. (2011).  Suicidal Mass Murderers: A Criminological Study of why they Kill.  Boca Raton, Taylor & Francis Group, CRC Press.
Bureau of Justice Statistics, (2004). Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report: Profile of Jail Inmates 2002.  Retrieved From: http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/pji02.pdf
Seiter, R.P., (2008).  Corrections: An Introduction.  Second Edition.  Prentice Hall United States


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