This is the fourth in a regular series of posts derived from Ted Gest's article Crime and Justice Trends in America: How We Got Here; Where We Go Next on cutting edge evidence-based crime fighting practices posted at The Crime Report.
Sentencing--Michael Tonry, University of Minnesota.
Tonry separated sentencing policies in the last century into four eras: indeterminate sentencing (judges' leaving many decisions up to corrections authorities), 1930-75; sentencing reform, 1975-84; "tough on crime," 1985-96; and "equilibrium" from 1997 to the present.
Tonry agreed with Cullen that a careful look at the results of public opinion surveys show much support for rehabilitation programs for inmates even back in the 1980s. Meanwhile, liberal politicians largely abandoned efforts to promote humane policies and resisted or supported tougher sentencing.
For example, mandatory minimum sentence laws of the 1970s typically required one or two year prison terms. Those in the 1980s often required minimums measured in decades. Three-strikes laws enacted in 1994-96 required minimums of 25 years or life.
More recently, developments like the flattening out of the prison population, some moderation of harsh laws, and the emergence of less punitive programs aiming at rehabilitation of offenders could signal a major change of direction.
Or, if the recession abates, the march toward continued or greater toughness could resume.