Sentencing and Early Release
By: Kyle

The criminal system is complex in that it deals with different degrees of criminal acts and different kinds of people.  While it is always agreed that these prisoners are nuisances to society, it is agrued  how long of a jail term they should have to inure or if they even should go to jail to begin with.  In the reform movement many judgments of length of sentence were made based on Christian ideas.  The religious belief was that the sinner could be cleansed by a long term of solitary confinement.  However, this idea was quickly disproved, when prisoners were driven insane in silent isolation. 

 In 1822 the New York Prison Association, led by Enoch C. Wines and Thoedore Dwight, advocated a system where prsioners were rewarded for their good behavior and could be released once they were reformed.  This theory, which is still used today, led to the practice of releasing inmates early on parole and giving convicts an unspecified sentence.  These sentences would usually give a two to three year time span for release.  These ideas were expressed at the National Prison Congress, in 1870.   The parole system was a flawed one, as parole boards were made up of people with little expertise in the criminal field, possibly freeing people who are not adequately reformed.  Also, they typically had so many cases, they did not have adequate time to give each case its due time.  Contrary to belief, prisoners spent more time behind bars in the parole system than in the previous system.  Upon serving the minimum amount of time in jail according to their sentence, prisoners could bring his or her case to a parole board, which would decide if the person deserved parole.  Once free, these people would still need live for a set period of time under the rules laid by the parole board. 

            Another reformer who had an opinion on sentence length, was Zebulon Brockway.  He believed a system of classification that would treat each inmate as an individual, taking into account many factors like criminal history and age, would determine when they have been reformed.  As the superintendent at Elmira Reformatory in New York, he assigned each prisoner a grade.  Through cooperation, work, and education prisoners could gain better grades and ultimately get released.  This system was inspired by the mark system, which was used in Australia.  In that system prisoners must accrue for release. 

            Probation was perhaps the biggest way in which sentence lengths were adjusted during this time.  Probation is the concept of reforming a convict without sending them to jail.  The idea was brought about when reformers believed that incarcerating a prisoner would impede their rehabilitation, as they would become less likely to cooperate with society after the prison experience.  The program was hard to keep up, as local government usually funded it, and most local governments poorly funded the program.  Also, judges were believed to be racially selective when choosing those who could be apart of this program. 

There are ways for convicted criminals may appeal their sentence to a higher court, known as a appellate court. The appellate court wll review the trail and decide if a prejudicial error was made.   Once an error was found, the court will announce a new trial, but in rare cases they will immediatly reverse the conviction.  Also, a convict may apply to a court for a writ of habeas corpus.  The person tries to cinvince the judge that a fundamental error was made in the process leading to the conviction.  Relief is very limited and varies depending on the jurisdiction.

The United States Constitution provides some rules on sentencing.  The eight amendment prevents judges and justice officials from giving excessive bail, excessive fines, and cruel and unusual punishments.  The 14th amendment was created in the aftermath of the civil war, on July 13, 1866.  This amendment influenced sentencing because it dealt with because it required evenhandedness in capital sentencing.