As the criminologist advisor to a member of the Pennsylvania state legislature, I have been selected to conduct research for a bill that would double the maximum prison term for anyone convicted of armed robbery. The bill is popular however it is unknown if it will do much good. It is my job to make recommendations in regards to whether the bill being voted on will be beneficial to everyone in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
The prison term policies are sentencing guidelines that are created by Congress and the State Legislature to provide judges with bases for sentencing those individuals found guilty of committing a crime to ensure that each person is treated equal without discrimination (sentencing guidelines, 2010). There are four offenses that make up what is known as violent crime which are murder, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. According to the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program a violent crime is any crime that involves force or threat of force to others (Department of Justice, 2006). Currently the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s prison terms for armed robbery are as follows: for the first offense of a violent crime a minimum of five years, for a second offense of a violent crime a minimum of 10 years, and for the third offense of a violent crime a minimum of 25 years total confinement or life imprisonment which is accordance with 42 Pa. C.S. §9714 (Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing, 2008).
Pennsylvania’s Uniform Crime Reporting tracks all forms of Robbery together. According to the Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Reporting System, in 2008 there were 18,751 reported robbery offenses which is equivalent to 51 per day or one every 28 minutes and 2 seconds (PA UCRS, 2008). These figures showed a decrease of 2.5% from 2007 which had 19,239 reported robberies (PA UCRS, 2008). Robbery made up 5.4% of the crime index and 37.2% of the violent crime index in Pennsylvania in the year 2008 (PA UCRS, 2008). The reported robbery rates in Pennsylvania in 2008 were 150.6 per 100,000 inhabitants (PA UCRS, 2008). Recidivism is defined as a habitual relapse into crime, which is a problem that is faced within the criminal justice system. Pennsylvania tracks information on inmates released in order to find the recidivism rates.
In 2002 Pennsylvania Department of Corrections released 1,711 inmates charged with robbery and within three years 46.6% returned to prison, which was a decline from 2000 when 1,776 inmates charged for robbery were released and 52.8% of the inmates returned within three years (PADOC, 2006). A study was conducted in Italy in 2006 when the Collective Clemency Bill set all inmates with less than three years remaining on their sentence free however if the inmates were convicted of another crime within the next five years, the remainder of their sentence would be added onto the new sentence. This allowed studies to be conducted to see if longer prison terms would deter criminals. Studies showed that increasing the sentence by 50% should reduce recidivism rates by about 35% in seven months (Crime/Punishment, 2010). With inmates comes a bill to cover the housing, feeding, and medical costs of each inmate. The cost to house a prisoner in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PADOC) is $69 per day (Barnes, 2010). In July 2010 the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections housed 51,281 inmates, at $69 per day that amounts to $3,538,389 per day or $1,291,151,985 per year (PADOC, 2010).
There are multiple benefits of the bill being passed to double the maximum prison term for those convicted of armed robbery. The study that was conducted in Italy shows that longer prison sentences lowers the recidivism rates among offenders, which over time would reduce the population of the already over populated prisons. The criminals would be off the streets for a longer period of time preventing them from committing future crimes. Longer prison sentences could be a deterrent for some criminals. Robbery is one of the top two violent crimes committed in Pennsylvania and the longer sentence imposed on those criminals may lower the rate of armed robbery however it could cause an increase in other crimes. If the bill were passed and new prisons built to accommodate all inmates there would be more jobs available such as corrections officers, nurses, doctors, dentists, psychologists, and office personnel. These job openings would not only assist with job market, but also with having more tax payers to assist with the money needed for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania budget.
There are also multiple disadvantages to the bill being passed to double the maximum prison term for those convicted of armed robbery. Pennsylvania prisons are overpopulated as it is and by imposing longer sentences the problem is going to continue to get worse. As discussed earlier the prison population in June 2010 was 51,281 however the occupational bed capacity of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections is only 43,872 (PADOC, 2010). The prisons are already operating at 116.9% of capacity and by passing this bill those rates are going to increase at a more rapid pace than they already are (PADOC, 2010). As discussed earlier the cost to house an inmate in Pennsylvania Department of Corrections is $69 per day which if this bill is passed a much larger budget is going to be required because inmates are going to be housed for a longer period of time. The need may arise for more prisons due to the longer prison terms which would require a much larger budget. With more prisons comes the need for more employees to operate those prisons which also is going to have an effect on the prison budget.
Where is the money going to come from to meet the increase in the budget? The tax payers are the ones that are going to have to suffer to make the funding available for the prison system budget. Other crime rates may rise as a domino effect because criminals may turn to other crimes that are known to carry a lighter sentence if they are caught. If the bill is passed it is not required that judges sentence those convicted of the crime to the maximum sentence. Judges are required to look at mitigating and aggravating circumstances when sentencing individuals found guilty of committing crimes. Judges look at prior criminal history, personal life situation, was anyone hurt during the crime, or sometimes the remorse the person shows toward the crime they committed. This bill could be beneficial in the cases of habitual offenders because there would be stricter sentencing for the first offense rather than having to wait until the second or even third offense.
As we all know with anything there is pros and cons. There appears to be more cons in this situation than there are pros which should make the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania legislature take a second look into whether or not passing this bill is going to be the most beneficial thing for the Commonwealth as a whole. I would find that it would not be beneficial to double the maximum sentence for those individuals charged with committing armed robbery. The evidence shows that it would cost the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania more money to double the sentence for armed robbery. The evidence also proves that close to 50% of people convicted of armed robbery are going to reoffend which is going to bring them back to the criminal justice system and with one offense already committed they will receive a longer sentence the second time around. This also allows for those who are actually capable of being rehabilitated to have the chance to prove themselves without having to spend 10 years in prison.
Barnes, T. (2010). Post-Gazette. Pa. sentencing guidelines eyed. Retrieved on August 31, 2010 from http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10002/1025303-454.stm
Crime/Punishment (2010). Do stiffer sentences act as a crime deterrent? Retrieved on August 31, 2010 from http://crime.about.com/od/prevent/a/deterrence.htm Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation (2006). Crime in the United States 2004. Violent Crime. Retrieved on August 31, 2010 from http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius_04/offenses_reported/violent_crime/index.html Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing (2008). Retrieved August 31, 2010 from http://pcs.la.psu.edu/guidelines/sentencing/sentencing-statutes-and-programs/related-statutes/mandatory-minimum-sentences/SentMandMin122008.pdf Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (2010). Monthly population report June 2010. Retrieved on August 31, 2010 from http://www.cor.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/research___statistics/10669/monthly_population_reports/568195 Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (2006). Recidivism in Pennsylvania State Correctional Institutions 1999-2004. Retrieved on August 31, 2010 from http://www.cor.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/research___statistics/10669/annual_reports/567085 Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Reporting System (2008). Annual Report Robbery. Retrieved on August 31, 2010 from http://ucr.psp.state.pa.us/UCR/Reporting/Annual/AnnualFrames.asp?year=2008 Sentencing guidelines (2010). Retrieved August 30, 2010 from http://www.willdefend.com/CM/Custom/TOCSentencingGuidelines.asp