How Corrections Changed in The Last Twenty Years

How Corrections Changed in The Last Twenty Years

Thursday, February 18, 2021

What are the major issues impacting corrections?

Corrections continues to move towards privatization. The corrections system is deeply challenged by costs and growth of prison populations which drives the movement towards privatization. The largest reason for prison system growth has been due to the use of mandatory sentencing, especially with regard to drug convictions. California provides a strong example of how the the corrections system is being impacted. Much of the overcrowding that has occurred in the state’s prisons has been the result of reforming sentencing laws. In the 1980s as part of a national move to reform sentencing laws because of drug crimes and activities, determinant sentencing laws were enacted in California. There are two forms of changes in law there occurred including determinant and minimum sentencing. Under determinant sentencing laws the defendant is sentenced to a set term of imprisonment and has a limited period of parole upon release from prison. Determinant sentencing allows a judge to choose from different levels of severity in order to determine a sentence (Lowenthal, 1994). In contrast to determinant sentencing, mandatory sentencing requires a judge to sentence a defendant to specific terms based on specific circumstances. For example, a person who has committed three felonies will automatically have to serve 20 years. Both mandatory and determinant sentencing has severely impacted the California penal system. Since the inception of determinant and mandatory sentencing in the 1980s, prison population has grown 800% in California. This growth is not limited to California. The entire US population of prisoners has grown by nearly 500%.

For example, mandatory sentencing laws seem like a positive deterrent against drug dealing, but instead the laws have had a reverse effect. Judge Arthur L. Burnett Sr. the senior Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, wrote in the Baltimore Sun,

While these laws have imprisoned some drug kingpins and big-time drug dealers, mandatory minimums are regularly invoked against low-level substance abusers trying to support their drug habits… As a result, people in need of treatment end up getting long prison sentences. And because they are in a prison cell costing taxpayers $24,000 a year or more, they also drain resources that could be diverted to more serious criminal behavior (Burnette, 2005).

This situation has caused a tremendous growth in prison populations. mandatory sentencing since the 1980s has caused the prison population to continuously grow. This creates a massive challenge for corrections personnel and for administrators in jails in prisons due to the inability to meet safety standards and maintain facilities properly.


Burnette, A, L (2005,March,16). Let judges decide in drug cases. Baltimore Sun Retrieved from University of Phoenix EBSCOhost

Gary T. Lowenthal, Mandatory Sentencing Laws: Undermining the Effectiveness of Determinate Sentencing Reform, 81 Cal. L. Rev. 61 (1993).


Vincent Triola. Thu, Feb 18, 2021. How Corrections Changed in The Last Twenty Years Retrieved from

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