Shorter Sentences: Is This The Future Of American Prisons?

Our blog has frequently talked about the long prison sentences that many offenders face. Individuals accused of crimes could be sent away to prison for decades, even if the crime was completely nonviolent. It should be no surprise, however, as the United States has one of the largest prison populations in the world. It is not just that we jail a large number of people, but that we keep them in prison for a very long time. While there has been some talk of reforming the prison system, it is not entirely clear when or how those reforms will start.

One positive step has been a recent trip by Americans involved in the criminal justice system to the Netherlands and Germany. During their trip, they visited prisons and collected data for a report. The numbers were shocking: the proportion of people imprisoned in the two countries was one-tenth that of the U.S.

Even more newsworthy, however, are the length of sentences. Three-quarters of all sentences in Germany are one year or less. In the Netherlands, that figure is as high as 90 percent. In the United States, however, the average prison sentence is for three years.

Will New Jersey adopt some of these European corrections practices? Perhaps. Will the state adopt them soon? Most likely not. What this means, then, is that anyone who is accused of a crime should work with an experienced criminal defense attorney to try to mitigate some of these harsh sentences. At least until the prison system is reformed, the average sentence still is three years long.

Source: The New York Times, “Lessons From European Prisons,” Nov. 7, 2013