The US, in particular, is a near all-encompassing case study of what happens in a place with long prison sentences. In the US, the number of prisoners has quadrupled since the s — and now, as prison terms get longer, people are spending even more time in prison. Most prisoners are incarcerated for drug or violence-related offences. Today, the US leads the world with more than 2.
He points back to the late s, a turbulent time in US history. The country was in the throes of the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement, which led to protests and riots. In turn, that led to unrest and fear among the population. Politicians capitalised on that anxiety. And they still do. From that period the US saw an absolute explosion in prison population : from , in to more than 1,, in The US also has some of the longest prison sentences in the world due to its cultural values including an extreme emphasis on personal responsibility, religious belief in good and evil, and the idea that a community has the moral imperative to stamp out bad deeds.
Law bosses in the US have been pushing for harsher sentencing in an attempt to keep violence and drugs off the streets Credit: Getty Images. Other societies might contextualise crime as more situational. So, are there alternatives to letting prisoners stew for decades? Norway shows some promising results.
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There, capital punishment was abolished in and life sentences in The maximum prison sentence is 21 years. But at Halden, cells and the commissary look like IKEA and Whole Foods, there are no barred windows or security cameras, and unarmed guards befriend the prisoners. Thomas Ugelvik, a criminology professor at the University of Oslo, says that these open prisons are cheaper, built on prisoner trust and, in some ways, may be tougher to do time in: more responsibility is expected of the prisoners. These Norwegian prison sentences help lead to rehabilitation, something not always seen in long prison sentences.
Even more surprising perhaps is that the average prison sentence length in Norway is only eight months. When a judge hands out a prison sentence there are four main factors that go into the decision: retribution, rehabilitation, safety and deterrence Credit: Getty Images. Sometimes, a suspect is apprehended at the scene; however, identification of a suspect sometimes requires an extensive investigation. Often, no one is identified or apprehended.
In some instances, a suspect is arrested and later the police determine that no crime was committed and the suspect is released.
After an arrest, law enforcement agencies present information about the case and about the accused to the prosecutor, who will decide if formal charges will be filed with the court. If no charges are filed, the accused must be released. The prosecutor can also drop charges after making efforts to prosecute nolle prosequi. A suspect charged with a crime must be taken before a judge or magistrate without unnecessary delay. At the initial appearance, the judge or magistrate informs the accused of the charges and decides whether there is probable cause to detain the accused person.
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If the offense is not very serious, the determination of guilt and assessment of a penalty may also occur at this stage. Often, the defense counsel is also assigned at the initial appearance. All suspects prosecuted for serious crimes have a right to be represented by an attorney. If the court determines the suspect is indigent and cannot afford such representation, the court will assign counsel at the public's expense.
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A pretrial-release decision may be made at the initial appearance, but may occur at other hearings or may be changed at another time during the process. Pretrial release and bail were traditionally intended to ensure appearance at trial. However, many jurisdictions permit pretrial detention of defendants accused of serious offenses and deemed to be dangerous to prevent them from committing crimes prior to trial.
The court often bases its pretrial decision on information about the defendant's drug use, as well as residence, employment, and family ties. In many jurisdictions, the initial appearance may be followed by a preliminary hearing. The main function of this hearing is to discover if there is probable cause to believe that the accused committed a known crime within the jurisdiction of the court. If the judge does not find probable cause, the case is dismissed; however, if the judge or magistrate finds probable cause for such a belief, or the accused waives his or her right to a preliminary hearing, the case may be bound over to a grand jury.
A grand jury hears evidence against the accused presented by the prosecutor and decides if there is sufficient evidence to cause the accused to be brought to trial. If the grand jury finds sufficient evidence, it submits to the court an indictment, a written statement of the essential facts of the offense charged against the accused.
Where the grand jury system is used, the grand jury may also investigate criminal activity generally and issue indictments called grand jury originals that initiate criminal cases. These investigations and indictments are often used in drug and conspiracy cases that involve complex organizations. After such an indictment, law enforcement tries to apprehend and arrest the suspects named in the indictment. Misdemeanor cases and some felony cases proceed by the issuance of an information, a formal, written accusation submitted to the court by a prosecutor. In some jurisdictions, indictments may be required in felony cases.
However, the accused may choose to waive a grand jury indictment and, instead, accept service of an information for the crime. In some jurisdictions, defendants, often those without prior criminal records, may be eligible for diversion from prosecution subject to the completion of specific conditions such as drug treatment. Successful completion of the conditions may result in the dropping of charges or the expunging of the criminal record where the defendant is required to plead guilty prior to the diversion.
Once an indictment or information has been filed with the trial court, the accused is scheduled for arraignment. At the arraignment, the accused is informed of the charges, advised of the rights of criminal defendants, and asked to enter a plea to the charges. Sometimes, a plea of guilty is the result of negotiations between the prosecutor and the defendant. If the accused pleads guilty or pleads nolo contendere accepts penalty without admitting guilt , the judge may accept or reject the plea.
If the plea is accepted, no trial is held and the offender is sentenced at this proceeding or at a later date.
The plea may be rejected and proceed to trial if, for example, the judge believes that the accused may have been coerced. If the accused pleads not guilty or not guilty by reason of insanity, a date is set for the trial.
A person accused of a serious crime is guaranteed a trial by jury. However, the accused may ask for a bench trial where the judge, rather than a jury, serves as the finder of fact. In both instances the prosecution and defense present evidence by questioning witnesses while the judge decides on issues of law. The trial results in acquittal or conviction on the original charges or on lesser included offenses. After the trial a defendant may request appellate review of the conviction or sentence. In some cases, appeals of convictions are a matter of right; all States with the death penalty provide for automatic appeal of cases involving a death sentence.
Appeals may be subject to the discretion of the appellate court and may be granted only on acceptance of a defendant's petition for a writ of certiorari. Prisoners may also appeal their sentences through civil rights petitions and writs of habeas corpus where they claim unlawful detention.
After a conviction, sentence is imposed. In most cases the judge decides on the sentence, but in some jurisdictions the sentence is decided by the jury, particularly for capital offenses. In arriving at an appropriate sentence, a sentencing hearing may be held at which evidence of aggravating or mitigating circumstances is considered. In assessing the circumstances surrounding a convicted person's criminal behavior, courts often rely on presentence investigations by probation agencies or other designated authorities. Courts may also consider victim impact statements.
The sentencing choices that may be available to judges and juries include one or more of the following:. In some jurisdictions, offenders may be sentenced to alternatives to incarceration that are considered more severe than straight probation but less severe than a prison term. Examples of such sanctions include boot camps, intense supervision often with drug treatment and testing, house arrest and electronic monitoring, denial of Federal benefits, and community service.
In many jurisdictions, the law mandates that persons convicted of certain types of offenses serve a prison term. Most jurisdictions permit the judge to set the sentence length within certain limits, but some have determinate sentencing laws that stipulate a specific sentence length that must be served and cannot be altered by a parole board. Offenders sentenced to incarceration usually serve time in a local jail or a State prison. Offenders sentenced to less than 1 year generally go to jail; those sentenced to more than 1 year go to prison. Persons admitted to the Federal system or a State prison system may be held in prisons with varying levels of custody or in a community correctional facility.