Monday, March 19, 2007

20 to 30 - Part II

In my earlier posting “20 to 30” regarding a shooting murder in the Uptown area of Minneapolis, Minnesota in 2006 I posed the question -- how were prison sentencing guidelines for presiding judges determined? After researching a bit the National Constitution Center ( ) in Philadelphia tells me that federal sentencing guidelines were created by the US Congress in the 1980’s in an effort to crack down on crime.

I have no idea what changes have happened to the sentencing laws in the last quarter of a century but a prison sentence of 20 to 30 years for murdering someone seems to be a light one but trust my readers (yes, both of you!) will educate me if I am wrong. Personally, I just want someone to “do something productive” to compensate for their crime beyond just serving time watching cable TV and lifting weights via some creative sentencing such as the scholarship fund that I suggested in the “20 to 30” posting.

The whole thought of sentencing guidelines reminded me of a news clip I made for a potential blog posting from the Little Rock Free Press newspaper while on a recent trip to Arkansas. This article published a graph produced by the International Centre for Prison Studies ( showing the incarceration rates – number of people per 100,000 population – for 2006 in the following countries:

USA - 737
Russia – 611
South Africa – 335
Israel – 209
Mexico – 196
England and Wales – 148
Australia – 126
China – 118
Canada – 107
Germany – 95
France – 85
Sweden – 82
Japan – 62
India – 30

Upon seeing this list my first thought was -- so why the huge differential between the USA and India at 737 versus 30? Now this could be a great topic for a graduate student to explore since these two countries share many characteristics including:

-large population base
-diverse population/ethnic groups
-history of English common law
-a representative democratic government tradition

So the USA locks up a hell of a lot of people but yet we only give a 20 to 30 year prison term to a cold-blooded murderer. This makes me think we need to explore some major prison reforms perhaps starting with our failed “war on drugs”.


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