Update on the impacts of California's determinate sentencing

by Mark A. Peterson

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Reviews the background, effects, and problems of California's Uniform Determinate Sentencing Act, passed in 1976 with subsequent amendments. The act defined sentencing policies, acted to stabilize the prison population and the lengths of prison terms, institutionalized California trends toward greater use of prison as a felony sentence, and codified appellate court decisions extending procedural rights for inmates. The legislature has also passed other laws mandating prison terms for certain offenses. The act has made progress in enhancing fairness of treatment for criminal offenders and in answering public concern over the incidence of crime. Two current problems are that the legislature's repeatedly mandating increases in prison terms for certain violent crimes may again jeopardize equity for prisoners; and the current growth of the prison population beyond prison capacity will require the legislature either to authorize new prison space or balance an increase in one penalty with a decrease for other, less serious crimes.

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