Plea Bargaining and Mass Incarceration
New York University Annual Survey of American Law, Vol. 76, No. 2, at page 205 (2021)
30 Pages Posted: 15 Feb 2022
Date Written: February 7, 2022
The United States, which imprisons a higher proportion of its population than any other nation, is also the nation most dependent on plea bargaining. This Article shows that plea bargaining was a major cause of mass incarceration. Bargaining not only increased the number of people sent to prison but also produced harsher sentences than would have existed in its absence.
American incarceration rates rose sharply just after the Supreme Court and the American Bar Association declared plea bargaining legitimate and beneficial. This Article shows how courts and legislatures then enhanced the power of prosecutors and how prosecutors used their power to charge more people with crimes, induce more guilty pleas, exact broader waivers of rights, and obtain more severe sentences.
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