The Absence of Equality and Human Dignity Values Makes American Sentencing Systems Fundamentally Different from Those in Other Western Countries
University of Minnesota
Feb 23, 2016

Concern for equality and human dignity is largely absent from American sentencing. Prison sentences are imposed much more often than in any other Western country and prison terms are incomparably longer. The greater frequency of imprisonment is a product of punitive attitudes and politicization of crime control policies. The longer terms result partly from abolition of parole release in every jurisdiction for all or some inmates, but mostly from the proliferation since the mid-1980s of mandatory minimum, three-strikes, life without parole, and truth-in-sentencing laws. The ideas that offenders should be treated as equals and with concern and respect for their interests largely disappeared, though they had been animating values of earlier indeterminate and determinate sentencing systems. Their disregard is evident in the nature of contemporary laws but also in low-visibility policies and practices including the near absence of meaningful systems of appellate sentence review, low standards of proof — or none at all — at the sentencing stage, and the absence of policies that limit the weight given to past convictions in the sentencing of new offenses or set standards for sentencing of people convicted of multiple offenses.


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