The Lock 'Em Up Approach to Sentencing

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The approaches used to address the crime problem seen in America are subject to political influences (Travis; Walker). Celebrated cases, such as those of Megan Kanka and Polly Klaas, can put extreme political pressure on legislatures to take extraordinary measures to control or prevent crime (Walker). In addition, the local evening news in most metropolitan areas begins each night with stories on the murders, rapes, and assaults that had occurred in the community. This sets the public perception of the incidence of crime in the community and can likewise lead to political pressures coming to bear on the lawmakers to better control crime. The responses to these political pressures include a number of approaches, such as putting more police on the streets (Sherman); “unleashing” law enforcement, giving them more freedom and reducing or eliminating the consequences for interfering with individual rights (Walker); increasing deterrence through a swifter criminal justice system, with harsh punishments, and with an increased likelihood of detection, arrest, prosecution and punishment (Walker); closing loopholes that allow criminals to escape punishment or “escape” with limited punishment that is not suited to the crime (Walker); and finally, strong techniques that lock up offenders (the “lock ‘em up” approach) at various stages in the criminal justice process and ensure that the stay locked up (Walker). The “lock ‘em up” approach is generally considered to encompass three techniques: “preventative detention, incapacitation, and mandatory sentencing” (Walker, pg. 132). On an intuitive level, they are going to have considerable impact on reducing and controlling crime. In actual application, however, they do not. In some instances, they may even have negative impacts in other areas. For example, they can result in racial disparity or they can be unnecessarily harsh by their application. Preventive detention fails on a number of levels. Because of the...