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Assessment of the Development and Outcomes of Determinate Sentencing in Florida

NCJ Number
Justice Research and Policy Volume: 12 Issue: 1 Dated: 2010 Pages: 41-71
William D. Bales; Gerry G. Gaes; Thomas G. Blomberg; Kerensa N. Pate
Date Published
31 pages
This study examined the effect of determinate sentencing on prison overcrowding and recidivism rates in Florida.
The prior literature on determinate sentencing has been largely descriptive, critical, and without a comprehensive empirical focus regarding the development and consequences of this major justice reform. A common claim made in these prior studies is that determinate sentencing has resulted in our current prison overcrowding crises (i.e., Austin & Irwin, 2007). This paper responds to this empirical void through an assessment of Florida's efforts to implement determinate sentencing over the past 30 years. Included in the assessment is a study of the comparative effectiveness between indeterminate and determinate sentencing in terms of post-prison recidivism. The major findings are that Florida's incremental shift from indeterminate to determinate sentencing that culminated in the 85 percent time-served law passed in 1995 has not been as punitive as expected and has not been the primary reason for Florida's exponential increase in the prison population. Rather, the major increase in Florida's prison population is found to have been driven by the increase in felony convictions. Moreover, in a comparison of recidivism outcomes between indeterminate and determinate sentences, it is found that the 85 percent law has been associated with significant reductions in the likelihood of recidivism. While these findings are limited to Florida and, therefore, await further validation with other States and jurisdictions, it appears that some of the pessimistic conclusions in the literature on determinate sentencing could be premature. References (Published Abstract)