Increasing Prison Stays For Violent Offenders A Good Thing

JANIFEST/iStock/Getty Images Plus

When someone breaks the law, there should be some kind of punishment. This is especially true on laws with little ambiguity, such as laws against violent crime. After all, for an offense to be violent, it has to involve another person who was harmed in the process to some degree. Otherwise, it’s not violent.

It seems, though, that violent offenders who get lengthy prison sentences are serving more of that time behind bars.

And, I guess these folks aren’t thrilled about that?

There has been a dramatic increase in the length of custodial sentences for most serious crimes over the last two decades despite a fall in public concern with the minimum term for murder rising from 12.5 years in 2003 to 20 years in 2020. According to a new report by the Prison Reform Trust, there are almost 11,000 people in prison in England and Wales who will spend 10 years or more behind bars including more than two-thirds (67%) serving indeterminate sentences who do not know when or if they will be released.

In 2019, the latest year for which data are available, 124 people were sentenced to custody for 20 years or more (excluding life sentences) and are likely to spend 10 years or more held in custody—four times the number of just a decade ago. There are now over 3,500 people in prison serving one of these long determinate sentences.

Dr David Maguire, the group’s director, said that the impact on the justice system would be ‘significant and long-term’ and its challenges are expected to ‘shape the landscape for years to come’. According to the group, public concern about violent crime has actually fallen over the last two decades. The proportion of the public with ‘a high level of worry’ about violent crime declining from 13% to 8%. A higher proportion of people reported feeling ‘very/fairly safe’ walking alone after dark, rising from 73% to 78% overall and from 61% to 69% for women.

Of course, maybe the reason people aren’t that worried about it–data I think is probably dated now, to be fair–is because people who commit those kinds of crimes are being locked up for longer?

I don’t think you can look at public concern about crimes and extrapolate jack squat about how long sentencing should be.

Look, at the end of the day, sentences should be long. There needs to be profound punishment for taking a human life, for example. In my mind, 20 years is arguably still too short in many cases.

Does this create challenges in our prison system? Absolutely. However, if we’re worried about things like prison overcrowding, releasing violent criminals back out onto the streets probably isn’t the place to start. Maybe start with reviewing how to look at victimless crimes as a starter.

But murderers? Yeah, sorry bro, that’s where you’re going to lose me.

Same with other violent criminals. Most of them can rot in prison for eternity for all I care.

After all, if they’re locked up in prison, they’re not out on the street shooting and killing people. Not only that, but they’re serving as a warning to others that if they murder, they face a long time behind bars. While that doesn’t dissuade a lot of people, it does keep others from crossing the line, regardless of how tempting it may feel.

These guys being locked up for a long time is a good thing. Punishment is one purpose of sentencing, but deterrence is another. Frankly, it works, too.

Nov 26, 2021 10:30 AM ET