Sample Criminal Justice Essay Paper on Determinate Versus Indeterminate Sentencing

Determinate versus indeterminate sentencing

There are many people in the United States found in prisons, jails, and probation centers. All of these people ended up serving this sentencing through certain judicial procedures. These procedures exist in phases like for example it is not over after an offender pleads guilty but the offender goes through the sentencing process. The States of America mostly use indeterminate sentencing. The terms of imprisonment sentenced to offenders are identified as a range not as a specific period as with determinate sentencing.

Determinate sentencing and examples

Determinate sentencing is a prison or jail sentence where the offender’s length of sentence is defined and cannot be changed by an agency like the parole of board. This form of sentencing comprised of guidelines for sentencing, mandatory minimum sentencing and enhanced sentencing for particular crimes. The sentencing guidelines give a room for judges to review individual’s circumstances in a situation where it is applicable while mandatory minimum and enhanced sentencing dictate what terms judges should set. One example of determinate sentencing is in a case where an offender is sentenced to four years in prison. The offender can spend four years in prison though this is not always the case. Rules under this form of a sentence sometimes can govern when a prisoner is released depending on the length of sentence. For sentences under two years or more, the offender spends half of the sentence in prison and then spends the remaining sentence in the community on license. While on community license, the offender is under conditions and is supervised at the same upon which he or she is recalled to prison if any condition is breached. A sentence of six months is another example of determinate sentencing because this length cannot be changed unless there are applicable guidelines that give room for time off for good behavior or work release among other alternatives.

Pros and cons of determinate sentencing

The good thing about determinate sentencing is, there is no room for bias whether the judge likes you or not or knows you. The sentence is implemented regardless of on the offender’s religion, race or identity. The offender will know his or her fate if found guilty and this eliminates any form of anxiety between conviction and sentencing phases and makes the proceeds done in a faster way saving time. Determinate sentencing also means that every citizen is aware of the consequences of different types of offenses and gives a second thought about breaking a law if the fate is harsh. According to Stein (2015), the harsher the sentence is, the less likely the law is will be broken because someone will choose to follow the law to avoid dealing with the consequences.

On the other hand, determinate sentencing is not always fair. In a case where the breaking of law was unintended, the victim must face the consequences as the judges have little or no discretion to consider mitigating circumstances or lessen the terms of the sentence to reduce blame. Since the sentences are unfair sometimes, the judge can choose to disregard his or her duties to help convict from an excessive punishment. The laws of determinate sentencing are also very complex and may cause judges to make errors while interpreting them and this can lead to the imposition of wrong penalties.

Indeterminate sentencing and examples

In indeterminate sentencing, the sentence of the convict consists of a range of years like 7 to 12 years. There is no fixed time of the release and the convict has to spend a specified minimum amount of time in prison referred to as a ‘tariff.’ Also, the parole of Board decides when one will be released from prison (Doherty, 2013). The attitude of indeterminate sentencing is that a prison can rehabilitate someone and the amount of time to be spent there can be minimized if a prisoner shows a progress of change. An example is a prisoner sentenced to one to five years where he or she spends between one to five years. While in prison the parole board will review his behavior and determine when the offender can be released during the range, and if the prisoner does not show sign of reformation, then he or she ends up spending five years in prison. Another example is a sentence of 10 to 25 years where the parole begins to review the sentence after the prisoner serves the minimum ten years in prison and the decision made may order the prisoner be released after three more years.

Pros and cons of indeterminate sentencing

One advantage of indeterminate sentencing is that it is fair. People may commit similar crimes but under different circumstances. Each individual, however, is sentenced differently according to the circumstance of the crime. The benefits offered by the imprisonment like rehabilitation may encourage prisoners to reform and may lead to a change of their behavior permanently. These benefits serve as incentives where prisoners can conform to for early release (Neal, and Rick, 2016). However, indeterminate sentencing has caused overcrowding in prison especially for drug related crimes as many offenders tale risks of committing crimes with the knowledge that they can bargain the harshness of punishment.Moreso, this type of sentence puts too much power in the hands of judges which gives room for discriminatory results.


Doherty, F. (2013). Indeterminate sentencing returns: The invention of supervised release.

 New York University Law Review, 88.

Neal, D., & Rick, A. (2016). The Prison Boom and Sentencing Policy. J. Legal Stud., 45, 1-203.

Stein, M. (2015). A Philosophical Analysis of California Determinate Sentencing, Three

Strikes, and Realignment.