Despite the enactment of justice reforms in many states, the nation’s prison and jail population has dropped only slightly in recent years. Well over two million people remain behind bars, and there has been little dent in the “mass incarceration” that that has been criticized by many on both the left and the right.
A new report from the Urban Institute tells much of the reason why: Prisoners sentenced to long terms under laws passed in previous decades still are locked up, and there is little hope for many of them to get out soon, wrote Ted Gest on The Crime Report.
The key phrase used by those who follow the criminal justice system is “length of stay,” or the amount of time that a convicted person ends up spending in prison despite the stated sentence.
In “A Matter of Time: The Causes and Consequences of Rising Time Served in America’s Prisons,” the institute said that “more people have been going to prison and staying there longer, mostly because of “tough-on-crime” policies that swept the country in the 1980s and ’90s. The prison population boomed as sentences got longer and release policies got more restrictive.”
In the past, many convicts were released by parole boards or by other policies well before the maximum time they could have served. Reacting to criticism of these so-called early releases, many states enacted laws requiring all prisoners to stay through at least 85 percent of their sentences.
The Urban Institute report found that the average length of stay has grown in every state since 2000. In almost half of states, the top 10 percent of prison terms increased in length by more than 5 years between 2000 and 2014.
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