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Truth in Sentencing in State Prisons

Truth in Sentencing in State Prisons

U.S.DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE

ADVANCE FOR RELEASE AT 4:30 P.M. EST         BJS 
SUNDAY, JANUARY 10, 1999            202/307-0784
         
STATE SENTENCING LAW CHANGES LINKED TO
INCREASING TIME SERVED IN STATE PRISONS  

     WASHINGTON, D.C.--As the states continue to
enact restrictions on the possibility of
early release, prisoners, especially violent
offenders, are spending more time behind bars, the
Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics
(BJS) announced today.

     By the end of 1998, 27 states and the
District of Columbia required violent offenders to
serve at least 85 percent of their prison
sentences, up from 5 states in 1993.  Another 13
states have adopted truth-in-sentencing laws
requiring violent offenders to serve a substantial
portion of their sentence before being eligible
for release.  As a result, about 70 percent of
prison admissions for a violent offense in 1997
were in states requiring offenders to serve at
least 85 percent of their sentence and more than
90 percent were in states requiring at least 50
percent of the sentence to be served.

     In 1994, a new law (amended in 1996)
authorized the federal government to provide
financial assistance to the 50 states, the
District of Columbia and the U.S. territories to
construct or renovate prisons to incarcerate
additional violent offenders.  Those states and
territories that adopt the 85 percent standard
became eligible for an increased portion of
federal funding.  Since fiscal year 1996, the
Justice Department has provided more than $1.3
billion through the Violent Offender
Incarceration/Truth-in-Sentencing (VOI/TIS)
incentive grants program.

     The adoption of these state legislative
changes has resulted in increases in time actually
served behind bars and growing state prison
populations nationwide (up 7 percent annually
since 1990).  The average time served by released
violent offenders (persons convicted of murder,
rape, robbery and aggravated assault) rose from 43
months in 1993 to 49 months in 1997.   Time served
by released violent offenders rose in at least 38
states during that period.   Their average percent
of sentence served in prison rose from 47 percent 
to 54 percent.

     Among released state prisoners, based on the
latest available data for all types of offenders,
the average time served has increased from an
average of 22 months in prison and 6 months in
jail in 1990 to 25 months in prison and 5 months
in jail in 1996.  During this six-year period,
total time served by released prisoners increased
for every offense, except robbery which decreased
slightly from 48 months to 46 months.

     Consistent with the requirements to serve
more time in prison, prison release rates have
dropped.  Overall, the number of releases relative
to the number of inmates in prison dropped from
37 per 100 state prisoners in 1990 to 31 per 100
in 1996.  The release rate among murderers showed
the greatest decline--cut in half, from about 10
per 100 in 1990 to 5 per 100 in 1996.  In
addition, more released prisoners are serving
their entire sentences (18 percent in 1997,
compared to 13 percent in 1990). Fewer offenders
were released as a result of parole board
decisions--in 1997 it was  29 percent, compared to
41 percent in 1990.  At the end of 1998, 14 states
had abolished parole board release for all
offenders.  At least 6 other states had abolished
parole board release for certain violent or felony
offenders.  Though discretionary releases by
parole boards have dropped since 1990, more than
80 percent of all released prisoners in 1997 were
subject to some form of conditional community or
supervised release. 

     As the number of offenders sentenced under
truth-in-sentencing provisions continues to
grow, the national average of time served and
percent of sentence served will continue to rise. 
However, because the reforms are relatively
recent, few offenders admitted under
truth-in-sentencing laws have been released. 

     The definition of truth in sentencing varies
among the states, as do the percentages of time to
be served.  The states that met the federal
standard for truth-in-sentencing in 1998 were:

Arizona                                      
California                                   
Connecticut                                  
Delaware                                
District of Columbia
Florida                                 
Georgia                                 
Iowa
Kansas
Louisiana
Maine
Michigan
Minnesota
Mississippi
Missouri
New Jersey
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Ohio 
Oklahoma
Oregon
Pennsylvania
South Carolina
Tennessee
Utah
Virginia
Washington

     Most state truth-in-sentencing laws are
targeted at convicted violent offenders.  Florida,
Mississippi and Ohio require all offenders to
serve a substantial portion of their sentences
before release.  Four states (Indiana, Maryland,
Nebraska and Texas) have a 50 percent requirement,
three states (Idaho, Nevada and  New Hampshire)
have a 100 percent requirement on the minimum
sentence and six states have other requirements.

     The special report, "Truth in Sentencing in
State Prisons" (NCJ 170032), was written by BJS
statisticians Paula M. Ditton and Doris James
Wilson.  Single copies may be obtained from the
BJS fax-on-demand system by dialing 301/519-5550,
listening to the complete menu and selecting
document numbers 144 and 145.  Or call the BJS
Clearinghouse number: 1-800-732-3277.  Fax orders
for mail delivery to 410/792-4358.  The BJS
Internet site is  

          http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/

     Additional criminal justice materials can be
obtained from the Office of Justice Programs
homepage at 
          
            http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov.

                    # # # 

After hours contact: Stu Smith at 301/983-9354 

(End of file)

Date Created: May 27, 2009