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Influences of Truth-in-Sentencing Reforms on Changes in States' Sentencing Practices and Prison Populations

NCJ Number
Date Published
April 2002
104 pages
This study examined the variety of forms of "truth in sentencing" (TIS) implemented among these States and how these forms related to ongoing patterns of sentencing reform in the States, the influence of the Federal TIS grant program on sentencing reforms throughout the States, and how the forms of TIS implemented in these States have affected changes in prison populations.
Truth in sentencing (TIS) refers to a range of sentencing practices that aim to reduce the uncertainty about the length of time that offenders must serve in prison. Throughout the States and in the Federal Government there has been, during the past decade, much legislative activity related to TIS. The first chapter describes the changes in the Federal TIS grant eligibility requirements over time, as well as the various forms of TIS described in the Federal legislation that has been the basis of the Federal TIS grant program. It also describes the varieties of TIS implemented throughout the United States and argues that the Federal TIS grant eligibility criteria reflect both the Federal recognition of a wide variety of sentencing practices among the States and the Federal acknowledgment that there is not a common or unified form of TIS. The second chapter addresses the role of the Federal TIS grant program in influencing States to implement TIS. This chapter argues that the Federal TIS grant program had limited influence on the States in their adoption of TIS according to an 85 percent, determinate sentencing model; further, it had marginal influence on the States in their adoption of other forms of TIS. The Federal TIS grant program is better understood as a program that reflected current sentencing practices and the reforms that were occurring in the States. The third chapter takes information about sentencing reforms from the descriptions in the previous two chapters and addresses empirically the influence of TIS reforms on changes in prison population outcomes. This analysis was conducted for seven States. The study found that when implemented as part of a larger sentencing reform process, TIS reforms are associated with large changes in prison population outcomes. In States that did not make changes to their sentencing structures by implementing TIS, changes in prison population outcomes were more strongly influenced by changes in pre-sentencing factors than by changes in sentencing practices. In States that made moderate to marginal changes in their sentencing structure when they implemented TIS, the effects of changes in sentencing practices on prison outcome generated two patterns. First, changes in the prison admission rate for violent offenders had a larger influence on prison population outcomes than did changes in expected length of stay. Second, the increase in percentage requirements led to larger increases in length of stay and consequently a larger effect of length of stay on the expected number of prisoners. Finally, as TIS was implemented during a period when violent crime was decreasing, in some States arrests for violent crimes led to large decreases in the expected number of prisoners and in the number of prison admissions. In States with determinate sentencing and no parole release, the absence of a "release valve" on the correctional system could potentially pose new challenges for managing corrections populations if violent crimes and arrests increase and if sentencing practices under TIS mirror those observed in 1996 or 1998. This result suggests that TIS as a corrections management tool has limited effectiveness. Chapter tables

Date Published: April 1, 2002