Beyond Rehabilitation: A New Theory of Indeterminate Sentencing
Michael M. O'Hear
Marquette University - Law School
February 28, 2011
American Criminal Law Review, Vol. 47, p. 1247, 2011
Marquette Law School Legal Studies Paper No. 11-05
Indeterminate sentencing - that is, sentencing offenders to a range of potential imprisonment with the actual release date determined later, typically by a parole board - fell into disrepute among theorists and policymakers in the last three decades of the twentieth century. This sentencing practice had been closely associated with the rehabilitative paradigm in criminal law, which also fell from favor in the 1970’s. In the years that followed, most states eliminated or pared back the various devices that had been used to implement indeterminate sentencing, especially parole release. Yet, sentencing remained indeterminate most places to varying degrees, and now parole and similar mechanisms are staging an unexpected comeback. However, despite its perseverance and apparent resurgence, indeterminate sentencing has lacked any clear theoretical foundation since the demise of the rehabilitative paradigm. Indeed, indeterminate sentencing is commonly thought to conflict with retributivism, the dominant approach to punishment theory today. The lack of a clear theoretical foundation has likely contributed in recent decades to the ad hoc expansion and contraction of parole in response to short-term political and fiscal pressures.
In the hope of bringing greater stability and coherence to what seems once again an increasingly important aspect of our penal practices, this Article proposes a new normative model for indeterminate sentencing that is grounded in a retributive, communicative theory of punishment. In essence, the model conceives of delayed release within the indeterminate range as a retributive response to persistent, willful violations of prison rules. The Article explores the implications of this model for prison and parole administration and for punishment theory.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 47
Keywords: Sentencing, Indeterminate Sentencing, Parole, Retributivism, Punishment Theory
Date posted: February 28, 2011 ; Last revised: August 20, 2013
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