Date of Completion

January 1980


Political Science, General




This study examined the politics of definite sentencing in Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois, and Connecticut, using four groups of independent variables: penal philosophy, political environment, socialization characteristics, and considerations specific to criminal justice. The research stressed both macro-historical and micro-individual levels of analysis: the former examined a wealth of documentary evidence available from the legislative history of definite sentences; the latter consisted primarily of the analysis of an attitudinal questionnaire constructed and mailed to state legislators for the exploration of this issue. Both levels of analysis had the same objective, which was to delineate the forces that helped to structure the outcome of definite sentencing reform. The major research findings of both levels of analysis are integrated and summarized below.^ The four major theories of punishment--rehabilitation, deterrence, incapacitation, retribution--were examined to determine if any were more important than the others in influencing the position of lawmakers on definite sentences. It was found that legislators are not particularly interested in penal philosophies, and tend to view the theories of punishment as a dichotomy between rehabilitation and retribution. If forced to choose, then retribution is a better predictor of legislators' positions on this issue than is rehabilitation, but it may be better to conclude that there is no clearly articulated penal philosophy of definite sentences.^ The political environment of definite sentences consisted of a diverse coalition in support of the reform for a wide variety of reasons. Definite sentences did not fragment the policy arena along party lines and legislators perceived a large amount of constituent interest in the issue.^ The survey instrument elicited information concerning the socialization characteristics of legislators in each state. Although these data were not useful as predictors of legislators' positions, they did provide a demographic portrait of the four legislatures.^ The criminal-justice-specific considerations of sentence length, discretion, and cost combined to produce the most influential impact upon the politics of definite sentencing. Sentences are for the most part based upon the average time served by prior inmates under the indeterminate sentence and parole system. Definite sentences shift discretion from the parole board to the judge. Although it is apparent that legislators do not really understand the details of sentence length and discretion, one fact, cost, necessitates that prisoners will not be expected to spend longer periods in confinement. If inmates are forced to serve longer sentences, then the cost of the criminal justice system will increase due to population pressures on institutions. Higher expenditures on criminal justice are politically intolerable and, therefore, the sentence lengths will be approximately the same under the old and new procedures. ^