Prisoner Sentencing

How long a sentence should a murder get in prison?

In the UK life sentences rarely actually mean life, whilst in the USA this is fairly common. Currently in the UK only about 50 people are subject to a whole-life sentence, most recently Dale Cregan for murdering 4 people. In the USA, however, approximately 40,000 people are imprisoned without much hope of release. Furthermore, this figure does not include those American prisoners who have been given extremely long fixed term sentences. For example, one Alabama man was sentenced to 200 years for kidnapping and armed robbery.

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America’s ‘sentencing inflation’ began in the 1980s when the Democrats and the Republicans wanted to show how tough they could be on crime. The increased sentences also saw a rise in states like Michigan where the death penalty does not exist, so the increased sentence was an alternative punishment.

However, there have been recent calls to have US-style, lengthy fixed life sentences in the UK. This is being considered after the European court ruled in 2013 that whole-life sentences were breaching the European Court of Human Rights. These proposals would allow the court to give sentences of hundreds of years. But, unlike whole-life sentences, these sentences can be reviewed and reduced (an aspect of sentencing less available in America).

Although many people say this move will “restore Human Rights” by enabling sentences to be reviewed along the way many others still argue that the sentence changes is dangerous and unnecessary, especially as the UK has seen increased sentences being given out year on year for the past decade.

How should a murderer be sentenced? How does it differ in your country? What sentencing proposals do you want to see?

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7 comments on “Prisoner Sentencing

  1. illero says:

    It is asserted, though, that violent crime stats have gone WAY down over the past couple of decades in the U.S. Might this be partially attributed to stronger sentences for violent crimes. It certainly would not appear that we are a more moral country than we were in the 80’s.

    • So do you believe that the UK would benefit from adopting a similar approach to sentencing? Or do you think there is a better alternative to giving lots of people life imprisonment?

      • illero says:

        As Robert indicates below, mandatory sentences are a problem. But he seems to be speaking primarily of the problems with applying mandatory sentences for non-violent crimes. Applying mandatory sentences for non-violent crimes is the lazy man’s way out, and I agree that we need reform in these types of crimes. However, a person who has no regard for the intrinsic value of human life, and acts on that disregard, should be put somewhere where he will never repeat the offense — or be executed. Long prison terms (or execution)for murderers (which is what you specifically asked about) serve two purposes: 1) protect society from the murderer, and 2) tell other would-be murderers that punishment for following through on their urges is quite severe. By the way, I am not 100% sure that longer prison terms are directly responsible for lower rates of violent crimes, but the correlation is suggestively strong.

        Would stronger sentencing of murderers be the right thing for the U.K.? I guess I would want to see some stats on recidivism before even engaging in a discussion.

  2. brissioni says:

    This is a tough issue which is why we usually leave it to legislatures, lawyers, courts, and judges to decide. Will we ever know which murderers are likely to murder again and which were situational murderers? Is it better to put fairly harmless people who have killed someone in jail for too long or to let people who have no respect for the lives of others out too early. Until we can see without a doubt what is in that “black box” (the mind of the perpetrator) which would be a terrible invasion of privacy and too “big brother” to contemplate, we will just have to protect society from truly evil people to the best of our abilities.

    • efgd says:

      Fairly harmless people do not murder someone. They might accidently kill someone which is known as manslaughter. Thus the custodian sentence should reflect this.

      I would suggest a person who plans a to murder someone must face the penalty of doing so – however justified they may feel on murdering a rapist or a violent person who has hurt their loved one or a murderer let out after only a few years in jail. Thus the Moors murderers should never ever get let out – in truth a death penalty would have been the correct restitutional punishment. The boys who murdered the little lad James Bulger should be in custody for life. It was not a prank and it was not a game gone wrong – they knew what they were doing and are now free men and not again as one of them has committed criminal acts again – related to little children.

      So I am in favour of life meaning till death in prison and longer custodian sentences for violent crimes; most violent criminals are not jailed as innocents before a hooha begins with the what if the person is innocent question. Considering the number of correctly jailed criminals the number of innocents being jailed is so minimal but of course not good for the innocent party. But then no system is fool proof is it?

  3. The increase of prison terms in America since 1980, which resulted from implementation of “mandatory minimum” sentencing laws, has created a societal nightmare of huge proportions. The U.S. now has the highest rate of incarceration in the industrialized world. That’s roughly 2.5 million people, or about 25% of the total number of people behind bars in the world (the U.S. accounts for only 5% of the world’s population). For comparison, neighboring Canada has an incarceration rate that is over 6 times smaller.

    The “War on Drugs” announced by President Nixon and escalated under President Reagan has been a disaster. More than half the people serving time in state prisons were convicted on drug-related charges, many simply for possession of marijuana. However, this policy has not appreciably reduced the overall use of illegal drugs in America.

    It is very costly to keep people behind bars, and now a monstrous privatized prison-industrial complex has been constructed at taxpayers expense. The incarcerated cannot contribute to the economy, and are not likely to do so if and when they are ever released. The lives of thousands, perhaps millions, of otherwise productive people have been ruined forever.

    Why did this tragedy happen? Because rather than doing the hard work of addressing the underlying socioeconomic and psychological reasons for criminal behavior, the establishment class chose the easy route. Politicians’ tough-on-crime bravado was publicly rewarded by their simple-minded supporters, while their campaign coffers were stuffed by the interests who make a living from the imprisonment of others.

  4. As my country became more liberal, prisoners that committed grievous crimes were serving a fraction of the so-called “life sentence. That was why several long term sentences consecutive, not concurrent- were imposed. Today, with NDAA, (thanks to Obama, we are in fact a de-facto police state, the Congress, who is supposed to be part of the checks and balances (Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches) is complicit by having granting the executive branch more and more power.

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