determinate sentencing | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction 

Determinate sentencing refers to a prison sentence of a fixed length that is not subject to reduction by a parole board or other body.

Determinate sentencing is a type of sentencing that is used in the criminal justice system to impose a fixed term of imprisonment on offenders. Unlike indeterminate sentencing, which involves setting a minimum and maximum sentence length and allowing for the possibility of parole, determinate sentencing sets a fixed length of time for an offender’s sentence that is not subject to reduction by a parole board or other body.

The use of determinate sentencing has become increasingly common in recent years as many jurisdictions have moved away from indeterminate sentencing models. Proponents of determinate sentencing argue that it is more transparent and predictable than indeterminate sentencing and that it helps to ensure that offenders receive a punishment that is commensurate with their crimes.

There are several factors that judges will consider when determining the length of a determinate sentence. These may include the severity of the crime, the offender’s criminal history, and any mitigating or aggravating circumstances that may be present.

One of the primary advantages of determinate sentencing is that it can help to provide closure to victims and their families. By setting a fixed sentence length, determinate sentencing ensures that offenders will serve a specific amount of time in prison and will not be eligible for early release or parole. This can help to alleviate concerns about the possibility of offenders being released too soon or receiving an inadequate punishment.

Another advantage of determinate sentencing is that it can help to reduce the workload of parole boards and other bodies that are responsible for making decisions about early release. Because the length of a determinate sentence is fixed, there is no need for ongoing assessments of an offender’s progress or behavior in prison, which can be time-consuming and costly.

However, there are also potential downsides to determinate sentencing. One concern is that it can be inflexible, as it does not allow for adjustments to be made based on an offender’s behavior or circumstances while in prison. This means that offenders who may have made significant progress in rehabilitation may still be required to serve the full length of their sentence.

Another potential disadvantage of this type of sentencing is that it can result in longer prison terms for some offenders. Because the length of the sentence is fixed, offenders may be required to serve longer sentences than they would have under an indeterminate sentencing system, particularly if they are not eligible for parole.

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Last Modified: 04/20/2023


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