Indeterminate, Determinate, Early Release, and Truth-in-Sentencing Penal Policies: An Empirical Test of the Impact on Public Safety

William D. Bales, Florida State University
Courtney A. Waid, Florida State University
Thomas G. Blomberg, Forida State University

Florida, like numerous other states, has implemented major policy shifts in the method of sentencing and punishing felony offenders over the past 25 years. While many have theorized about the intended and unintended consequences of these types of changes in punishment policies and their relative impact on public safety, only narrowly focused empirical studies have been conducted on these issues. This paper will examine Florida's penal policies over the past 25 years during which it has progressed from an indeterminate parole system to a deterministic system requiring all offenders to serve a minimum of 85% of their sentences. Between these two extremes in penal policy, periods of sentencing guidelines with liberal gaintime, massive early release mechanisms resultsing from prison overcrowding, and minimal gaintime policies have existed. Multi-variate Logit models and Survival Analysis will be used to determine the unique effect of each of the five major penal policies on various recidivism outcomes including re-arrest, re-conviction, and re-incarceration. Additionally, the severity of re-offenses will be examined across the different punishment policies. This research will inform the academic community and criminal justice policymakers as to the effectiveness of the nation's mass imprisonment shift since the 1970's in terms of public safety. Recommnendations for further research relating to the effect these shifts in penal policy have had on minorities, crime rates, and other outcomes will be discussed.

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Updated 05/20/2006