We’ve all heard the phrase “tough on crime,” and many people are aware that the United States is the most incarcerated nation in the world. But a new indication of our love of imprisonment comes in the form of sentence length. The Pew Center on the States released a report this week detailing how prison sentences have changed over the past few decades. What they found is dramatic.
Not only are people going to prison now for offenses they may have only gotten probation for in the past, but the sentences they are serving are far longer.
According to the Washington Examiner, “The average Virginia offender released in 2009 had served 3.3 years in prison, a 91 percent jump from the 1.7 years the average offender released in 1990 had served.” Overall, across the nation, inmates released in 2009 served 36% longer than those released in 1990.
It isn’t so much that inmates are being sentenced to longer terms, but that they are serving a larger percentage of their entire sentence.
In 1994 the state of Virginia did away with their parole system and the system that rewarded good behavior with credit to their sentence. Current laws, known as “truth-in-sentencing” laws require all offenders serve at least 85% of their sentence. Prior to these laws, even convicted murderers were only serving an average 1/3 of their sentence.
Sentence length only dropped in eight states while rising in 27 of the 35 studied in the Pew Center report.
“In Virginia, the amount of time in custody rose 68 percent for violent offenders, 62 percent for those convicted of property crimes and 72 percent for drug offenders.” The only state where time served grew more than Virginia was Florida, where it increased 166%.
These increases aren’t due to judges being more severe, but to the laws passed that require you to serve your sentence. In other words, in many situations, a judge’s hands are tied and while they may sentence you to a specific term, how much of that sentence is served is determined by the law.
When you are accused of a crime, you don’t have a whole lot of say in what happens. It can seem like you are the victim of the criminal justice system. When you have a local defense attorney on your side, however, you can at least feel like you have an advocate in your corner.
Contact our offices today to discuss your charges and the options available to you. We can offer a free consultation and some potentially valuable legal advice.