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Video: Indeterminate Criminal Sentencing: Definition, Purpose & Advantages



In the United States, most states use indeterminate sentencing. This means that judges sentence offenders to terms of imprisonment identified only as a range, rather than a specific time period. This lesson explains indeterminate sentencing.

2014-11-22

 Criminal Justice 101: Intro to Criminal Justice

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  • 2:35 Indeterminate Sentencing

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Lesson Transcript

Instructor:
Ashley Dugger

Ashley is an attorney. She has taught and written various introductory law courses.

In the United States, most states use indeterminate sentencing. This means that judges sentence offenders to terms of imprisonment identified only as a range, rather than a specific time period. This lesson explains indeterminate sentencing.

Sentencing

There are over two million people in our nation’s prisons and jails. That’s around the same population as Houston, Texas. There are another four million people on probation in the United States. That’s more than the city of Los Angeles! Can you imagine all of those people moving through our nation’s criminal justice system? How did they eventually end up serving these criminal sentences?

There are several different phases in the criminal justice process. Even after an offender pleads guilty to a crime or is found guilty by a jury, the process isn’t over. The convicted offender then faces sentencing. During this phase, the offender is brought before the court so that the offender’s penalty can be ordered. When the judge orders a penalty, or punishment, it’s known as the offender’s sentence. As you can see, most sentences include some form of probation or incarceration.

Though most sentencing decisions are left to the judge, the judge isn’t without guidance. The same law that sets out a particular crime usually also sets out the sentence for that crime. For example, the state law that tells us what constitutes burglary will also tell us that burglary carries a penalty of one to five years in state prison.

Determinate v. Indeterminate

A handful of states use determinate sentencing. This means the judge sentences the offender to a specific time period. The judge doesn’t have any discretion when sentencing the offender since the law dictates the precise sentence. For example, rather than identifying a range of one to five years, the law might say burglary carries an automatic prison term of three years. Think of ‘determinate’ as simply ‘the sentence is determined.’

However, most states use indeterminate sentencing. This is when the offender’s sentence is identified as a range, rather than a specific time period. In other words, the offender is actually sentenced to one to five years. Think of ‘indeterminate’ as simply ‘the sentence is not determined.’

Let’s take a closer look at indeterminate sentencing.

Indeterminate Sentencing

Remember that, in most states, the judge has wide discretion when deciding and imposing a sentence, which will be identified as a range. Let’s say our convicted offender receives an indeterminate sentence of one to five years. She knows she’ll serve a minimum of one year and a maximum of five years. The amount of time the offender actually serves will depend on several different variables.

While in prison, the state parole board will hold hearings to determine when, during the range, the offender should be released. The parole board is a small panel of people who decide when an offender should be released on parole. The governor usually appoints the board.

Typically, the offender must first serve a minimum amount of her sentence before the parole board will meet regarding the case. Most states require at least half of the sentence to be served.

Parole Variables

Parole means that the offender is allowed to serve the rest of her sentence under community supervision. The offender is released from prison to be a part of the community, but not without some restrictions. At a minimum, the offender will be required to check in regularly with her parole officer. Any violation, like an arrest for a new crime or a failure to find and keep a job, can result in her being sent back to prison.

When deciding whether or not to grant parole, the board considers these variables:

  • The original recommendation of the judge
  • The length of time the offender has served
  • Any aggravating or mitigating factors relating to the crime
  • The offender’s criminal history
  • The opinions of the victim or the victim’s family
  • The offender’s participation in rehabilitation programs
  • The offender’s risk to public safety
  • The offender’s behavior while in prison
  • The offender’s willingness to comply with conditions of parole
  • Prison overcrowding

Purpose of Indeterminate Sentencing

Indeterminate sentencing is meant to alleviate unnecessary prison time. It’s based on the principle that an offender should be released from prison when she no longer poses a threat to the community.

Indeterminate sentencing is based on the sentencing goal of rehabilitation, which is a type of penalty used to reform the offender and return the offender to society as a law-abiding citizen. Some people may need very little time in prison to be rehabilitated. These offenders should serve close to the minimum sentence for their crimes. Some experts argue that prison time beyond that necessary for rehabilitation simply wastes taxpayer money and leads to prison overcrowding.

Proponents of indeterminate sentencing also argue that it reduces repeat offenses since it holds an offender until officials are convinced there’s minimal chance of further criminal behavior.

Lesson Summary

Let’s review. Once an offender is convicted, the offender then faces sentencing. This means the offender is brought before the court so that the offender’s penalty can be ordered. The penalty, or punishment, is known as the offender’s sentence.

Some states use determinate sentencing, which means the judge sentences the offender to a specific time period, but most states use indeterminate sentencing, which is when the offender’s sentence is identified as a range, rather than a specific time period. An example is one to five years.

When the offender is released depends on the decision of the parole board, which is a small panel of people who decide when an offender should be released on parole. Parole means that the offender is allowed to serve the rest of the offender’s sentence under community supervision.

Indeterminate sentencing is based on the sentencing goal of rehabilitation, which is a type of penalty used to reform the offender and return the offender to society as a law-abiding citizen. This type of sentencing is meant to alleviate unnecessary prison time by releasing offenders from prison when those offenders no longer pose a threat to the community.

Learning Outcomes

When you’ve finished watching the video, it should be easier for you to:

  • Describe the phase of sentencing in the criminal justice process
  • Distinguish between determinate and indeterminate sentencing
  • List the different parole variables
  • Analyze the purpose of indeterminate sentencing


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Ch 10. The Sentencing Process in Criminal Justice

  • Types & Goals of Contemporary Criminal Sentencing

    10:09

  • Traditional & Alternative Criminal Sentencing Options

    8:34

  • Structured Criminal Sentencing: Definition, Types & Models

    9:05

  • Indeterminate Criminal Sentencing: Definition, Purpose & Advantages

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    Intermediate Sanctions: Definition, Purpose & Advantages



    Intermediate Sanctions: Definition, Purpose & Advantages

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  • Indeterminate Sentence

Indeterminate Sentence Law and Legal Definition

An indeterminate sentence is a sentence imposed for a crime that isn’t
given a definite duration. The prison term does not state a specific period
of time or release date, but just a range of time, such as “five-to-ten
years.”

It is the opposite of determinate sentencing, in which a fixed term or incarceration is imposed. However, an inmate sentenced under a determinate sentence can be released early due to good time credits, or overcrowding. States with determinate sentencing deny the judge any discretion over the length of the sentence and also often rule out any possibility of probation or alternative to prison. Determinate sentencing has been cited as a factor leading to increases in prison populations. Determinate sentencing eliminates parole boards and credit for participation in rehabilitation programs. Exact requirements vary by state.

Factors considered in granting parole to an offender with an indeterminate
sentence include:

  • The original recommendation of the sentencing judge
    and prosecutor.
  • The length of time an offender has served on the
    conviction to date.
  • Any aggravating or mitigating factors or circumstances
    relative to the crime of conviction.
  • The offender’s entire criminal history.
  • All available information from the victim or the
    victim’s family, to include comment on the impact of the crime, concerns
    about the offender’s potential release, and requests for conditions if
    the offender is released.
  • Participation in or refusal to participate in available
    programs or resources designed to assist an offender in reducing the risk
    of reoffense.
  • The risk to public safety.
  • Serious and repetitive disciplinary infractions
    during incarceration.
  • Evidence of an inmate’s continuing intent or propensity
    to engage in illegal activity (e.g., victim harassment, criminal conduct
    while incarcerated, use of illegal substances.)
  • Statements or declarations by the offender that
    he/she intends to reoffend or does not intend to comply with conditions
    of parole.
  • Evidence that an inmate presents a substantial
    danger to the community if released.

Legal Definition list

  • Indestructible Trust
  • Independent-Significance Doctrine
  • Independent Union
  • Independent Tortfeasors
  • Independent Testing Laboratory (Gaming Law)
  • Indeterminate Sentence
  • Index Crimes
  • Index Fund
  • Index Mutual Fund
  • Index Offense
  • Index Rate

Related Legal Terms

  • Accumulative Sentence
  • Back to Back Life Sentences
  • Blended Sentence
  • Concurrent Sentence
  • Concurrent-Sentence Doctrine
  • Conditional Sentence
  • Consecutive Sentences
  • Criminal Justice Sentence
  • Cumulative Sentence
  • Custodial Sentence

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  • Indeterminate Sentence

Indeterminate Sentence Law and Legal Definition

An indeterminate sentence is a sentence imposed for a crime that isn’t
given a definite duration. The prison term does not state a specific period
of time or release date, but just a range of time, such as “five-to-ten
years.”

It is the opposite of determinate sentencing, in which a fixed term or incarceration is imposed. However, an inmate sentenced under a determinate sentence can be released early due to good time credits, or overcrowding. States with determinate sentencing deny the judge any discretion over the length of the sentence and also often rule out any possibility of probation or alternative to prison. Determinate sentencing has been cited as a factor leading to increases in prison populations. Determinate sentencing eliminates parole boards and credit for participation in rehabilitation programs. Exact requirements vary by state.

Factors considered in granting parole to an offender with an indeterminate
sentence include:

  • The original recommendation of the sentencing judge
    and prosecutor.
  • The length of time an offender has served on the
    conviction to date.
  • Any aggravating or mitigating factors or circumstances
    relative to the crime of conviction.
  • The offender’s entire criminal history.
  • All available information from the victim or the
    victim’s family, to include comment on the impact of the crime, concerns
    about the offender’s potential release, and requests for conditions if
    the offender is released.
  • Participation in or refusal to participate in available
    programs or resources designed to assist an offender in reducing the risk
    of reoffense.
  • The risk to public safety.
  • Serious and repetitive disciplinary infractions
    during incarceration.
  • Evidence of an inmate’s continuing intent or propensity
    to engage in illegal activity (e.g., victim harassment, criminal conduct
    while incarcerated, use of illegal substances.)
  • Statements or declarations by the offender that
    he/she intends to reoffend or does not intend to comply with conditions
    of parole.
  • Evidence that an inmate presents a substantial
    danger to the community if released.

Legal Definition list

  • Indestructible Trust
  • Independent-Significance Doctrine
  • Independent Union
  • Independent Tortfeasors
  • Independent Testing Laboratory (Gaming Law)
  • Indeterminate Sentence
  • Index Crimes
  • Index Fund
  • Index Mutual Fund
  • Index Offense
  • Index Rate

Related Legal Terms

  • Accumulative Sentence
  • Back to Back Life Sentences
  • Blended Sentence
  • Concurrent Sentence
  • Concurrent-Sentence Doctrine
  • Conditional Sentence
  • Consecutive Sentences
  • Criminal Justice Sentence
  • Cumulative Sentence
  • Custodial Sentence

Attorney Help
Legal Definitions
Legal Q&A Online
US Legal Forms
Legal Topics

Get the USLegal Last Will Combo Legacy Package and protect your family today!

includes your Will, Power of Attorney, Living Will and more. Start Now!



Advanced Search


Share:



Request a Definition



Legal Forms

Last Will
Power of Attorney
Living Will
Incorporation
LLC Formation
Real Estate
Landlord Tenant
Divorce
Trusts
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  • Legal Topics
  • Definitions
  • Ask a Question
  • Laws
  • View All

Products

  • Personal Legal Forms
  • Business Legal Forms
  • FormsPass Subscriptions
  • Marketing

For Consumer

  • Information
  • Legal Forms
  • Document Review
  • Fixed Fee Services
  • Get Legal Help
  • Online Divorce
  • View All

Services

  • Business Formation
  • Document Drafting
  • Document Review
  • Attorney Assistance

For Business

  • Information
  • Legal Forms
  • Document Preparation
  • Document Review
  • Answers
  • Business Formation
  • View All

Attorneys

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  • Can you gain their trust?
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Indeterminate Sentence

A prison sentence that consists of a range of years (such as “five to ten years”).  The state parole board holds hearings that determine when, during that range, the convicted person will be eligible for parole.  The principle behind indeterminate sentences is the hope that prison will rehabilitate some prisoners; those who show the most progress will be paroled closer to the minimum term than those who do not.

Compare: determinate sentence

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