Presentation Title

Time Served: A Historical Analysis of the Severity of Punishment by Crime

Faculty Mentor

Joseph Bessette

Start Date

18-11-2017 2:15 PM

End Date

18-11-2017 3:15 PM

Location

BSC-Ursa Minor 135

Session

Poster 3

Type of Presentation

Poster

Subject Area

business_economics_public_administration

Abstract

Growing prison populations are often thought to indicate that the criminal justice system is becoming more punitive as a whole. While previous research has focused on the number of persons moving through each level of the system, relatively little attention has been given to the length of sentences served. Using data from the National Corrections Reporting Program, as administered by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, this report details how the severity of punishment for various crimes has changed since 1986 by measuring the length of time served before first release. Looking at the four main offense categories: violent, property, public order, and drug related, we find a general trend for all offenses that time served decreased slightly during the late 1980s, before increasing significantly in the early 1990s. After approximately a decade of this trend towards greater punishment, the early 2000s mark a leveling off in time served. By breaking down each crime category to individual offenses, the report demonstrates how this overall trend was present in almost all crimes. Nevertheless, our findings indicate that time served increased the most for violent crimes, which continue to be punished more severely. Property crimes, on the other hand, have not been punished as severely as time served increased at a slower rate and has begun to decline after 2000. Combined with data about how many people are entering the criminal justice system, this report provides a useful tool to understanding overall trends in prison populations.

Summary of research results to be presented

Our findings indicate that the criminal justice system has become more punitive since the late 1980s. The length of time served increased significantly beginning in the early 1990s and continuing until the early 2000s as an overall trend that is reflected in data for individual crimes. Punishment increased more for violent offenses than for any others, with a slight trend of decreasing punishment for property crimes. Mean data was consistently higher than median data, confirming our hypothesis that outliers receiving longer sentences would shift the average upwards. This gap is smallest for murder and non-negligent manslaughter, reflecting more consistent sentences for more serious crimes. The gap becomes wider as severity decreases, as indicated by data on kidnapping and assault. Burglary, robbery and assault are the only violent crimes where the trend in punishment has leveled off in recent years, while it continues to increase for murder, rape, and kidnapping.

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Nov 18th, 2:15 PM Nov 18th, 3:15 PM

Time Served: A Historical Analysis of the Severity of Punishment by Crime

BSC-Ursa Minor 135

Growing prison populations are often thought to indicate that the criminal justice system is becoming more punitive as a whole. While previous research has focused on the number of persons moving through each level of the system, relatively little attention has been given to the length of sentences served. Using data from the National Corrections Reporting Program, as administered by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, this report details how the severity of punishment for various crimes has changed since 1986 by measuring the length of time served before first release. Looking at the four main offense categories: violent, property, public order, and drug related, we find a general trend for all offenses that time served decreased slightly during the late 1980s, before increasing significantly in the early 1990s. After approximately a decade of this trend towards greater punishment, the early 2000s mark a leveling off in time served. By breaking down each crime category to individual offenses, the report demonstrates how this overall trend was present in almost all crimes. Nevertheless, our findings indicate that time served increased the most for violent crimes, which continue to be punished more severely. Property crimes, on the other hand, have not been punished as severely as time served increased at a slower rate and has begun to decline after 2000. Combined with data about how many people are entering the criminal justice system, this report provides a useful tool to understanding overall trends in prison populations.