Brief Description Of Virginia’s Program

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Table of contents

  1. Pros and Cons Associated with the Program
  2. Other Options and their Potential Consequences
  3. Recommendation

Due to prison overcrowding, Virginia has adopted a policy that uses statistics- similar to an insurance policy- to influence prison sentencing of nonviolent crimes. By doing this, they can keep people that are less likely to reoffend out of prison, thus saving money by reducing the prison population. Researchers found that factors like age, gender, job status, marital status, and previous offenses can be calculated and assessed using a 71-point risk system that evaluates the probability of an individual’s likeliness to be resentenced. Judges can sentence based on the recommended prison time, but they can also choose to sentence by their own judgement of the crime. By implementing this policy, they can divert unlikely reoffenders to other programs, while keeping the likely reoffenders out of the community, creating a safer place and avoiding prison overcrowding.

Pros and Cons Associated with the Program

This policy is able to make the judicial system more objective and uniform. With the risk assessments being scientifically derived it is less likely for a judge to show bias in their sentencing. The judges are also allowed flexibility in their decision. They are provided with the statistics, but are not required to use them if it does not seem fitting for the crime. This system would also help to reduce the prison population by keeping those with lower risk assessments out of jail, and those with higher risk out of the community. This could lead to better public safety and less money spent on prisons by housing less prisoners and better conditions by reducing problems associated with overcrowding. People of different risk assessments that commit the same crime would not receive the same penalty if the judge decides to heed the sentencing recommendation. Potentially, this is a form of systematic discrimination, and therefore unconstitutional. By incarcerating people based on factors that are out of their control, like age or sex, there is one group of people at a large disadvantage. Specific groups of people will serve more time than others for the same crime because they are predicted to reoffend again. An individual falling into the category of a jobless male in their twenties is already put at a disadvantage of 36 out of 71-points, making them very likely to go to prison (38 points), even before any judgement about the crime committed. Compare this to an elderly woman who may have committed the same crime. Is it just to give an elderly woman and a young man different sentences for the same exact crime based on whether they will commit a crime again? Trial is not about what an individual might do in the future. It is about the penalty for what the individual has already done. Who Supports It (which individuals or factions/groups)

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The citizens paying taxes may support this because they would have to spend less of their tax dollars on building new prisons and housing less prisoners. The community would also be in favor of this because it would keep the people who are likely to reoffend in jail. The citizens that fall into the categories of people that are less likely to reoffend would be in favor of this system because they are less likely to get prison time. Correctional facility employees may also support this policy if it will reduce overcrowding, making their jobs safer and more effective. The court system may benefit from this because they would be able to collect fines and fees from those that are arrested and put on parole. Who Opposes It (which individuals or factions/groups). Citizens being convicted of crimes oppose this policy because they may get a longer sentence based on immutable characteristics that are out of their control. Defense lawyers would oppose this because it may cause an unfair disadvantage to the defendant. The private prison complex may also oppose it because it would sentence less people. With less people being sentenced to prison time, the prison industry would not make as much profit.

Other Options and their Potential Consequences

If New Jersey were to adopt this policy and implement a point system, there could be a decrease in prison population. If most people fall under the minimum number of points, they can be diverted into other programs, thus lessening the amount of people in jail. This may also cause backlash from those who fall into the highest risk category. Although New Jersey may be sentencing less people overall, those that are assessed at a highest risk may be disproportionately affected, potentially causing a moral hazard.

According to the current risk assessment, prisons would be housing mostly jobless single men, while those who score low are incentivized to commit crimes if judges choose to follow the recommended prison time. One alternative is for the researchers to look further into the statistics behind recidivism. They may need a longer study and broader study to further quantify the rates of reoffending. They may find more factors at play than in the original study, such as mental health or lack of a support system. This is a difficult solution because it would require years of longitudinal studies and be resource intensive and highly individual. Another alternative is for New Jersey to adopt a “smart on crime” stance, rather than a “tough on crime” stance. Instead of sentencing people based on factors that result in points, we should sentence people based on the magnitude and blameworthiness of the crime. This would mean violent crimes would receive the harshest sentencing, while non-violent crimes, like drug offenses receive alternative treatment, no matter what risk assessment the offender is assumed to have. Changes in parole policies and diverting non-violent and first-time offenders to alternative programs such as drug treatment reduces the rate of recidivism greatly. Rather than assuming an individual is prone to resentencing, you would give them the ability to avoid resentencing on their own accord, thus reducing the prison population.

Recommendation

I recommend that New Jersey reject this policy, and choose an alternative to the point system to cull the prison population. Virginia has adopted this program out of need for more prison space because of their “tough on crime” stance. This stance called for minimum sentences of drug-related and minor crimes, overcrowding their prison systems with people that can serve as a functional part of society. Rather than giving specific and reasonable sentences for individual situations, some crimes required harsh punishment as a tactic to deter people from committing them. This view on sentencing suggests that prison is a punishment rather than rehabilitation for people to reenter society as functional citizens. Rather than give harsh punishments based on the likelihood of non-violent criminals reoffending, we should give alternative treatment to better our citizens while keeping the community safe.

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