Determinate & Indeterminate Sentencing

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Determinate and Indeterminate Sentencing:

The following paragraphs will define and explain the differences between determinate and indeterminate sentences. This discussion may seem, at first blush, to be somewhat theoretical. However, the issue is a life-altering one for parole as an institution. In a determinate sentencing structure, there is no role for a paroling authority in making release decisions. The authority of a parole board to grant discretionary release to a prisoner before the expiration date of the maximum term varies from state to state and is a creature of the state's sentencing structure. Such structures are broadly categorized as determinate and indeterminate. These categories must be characterized as broad because relatively few states have what might be termed "pure" determinate or indeterminate systems. An indeterminate sentencing structure divides the responsibility for the actual term of incarceration among the legislature, the judge, and the parole board. The legislature sets a broad range of time, expressed as minimum and maximum sentences, for a particular offense or category of offenses. The judge imposes a term of confinement within that range. The judge's sentence is also made in terms of a minimum and maximum term. The parole board determines the actual release date. The board typically has a formula for determining earliest parole eligibility. Parole eligibility (but not necessarily release) may occur after a percentage of the minimum, after a percentage of the maximum, or after the entire minimum has been served, depending on the state. States with indeterminate structures vary in terms of the breadth of the legislated sentence ranges and the discretion afforded to the judges and parole boards. Some states have placed restrictions on the range of terms that a judge may impose: the range may be no greater than one-third of the maximum sentence, for example. The parole board in some jurisdictions has the discretion...
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