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Do longer sentences actually deter crime?

The political season won’t begin in earnest for a few months in Michigan, but one topic that is certain to garner a great deal of attention are sentencing guidelines. It is no secret that sentencing (and the varying opinions behind them) have been a divisive issue in Michigan politics for quite some time. Yet there are still proponents of tougher sentences.

Nevertheless, there are several problems with long sentences. First, the notion that a long sentence will give an offender a long time to think about what they did and how to avoid a similar situation is a bit far-fetched. A 2009 study showed that 67 percent of offenders imprisoned for three years or more likely to likely to be re-arrested for a different offense and 25 percent of returning offenders were convicted and sent to prison.

Second, the notion that streets and neighborhoods are safer with long, tough sentences is fraught with peril. Studies have shown that tough sentences, especially for non-violent crimes, have had little if any effect on transforming communities from perpetual “war zones” to ideal neighborhoods. Instead, “get tough” sentencing protocols have only succeeded in increasing prison populations and further alienating struggling communities, particularly those of color. Lastly, there’s little evidence suggesting that longer sentences actually deter people from committing crimes, as if a person actually thinks about the potential sentence before committing a crime.

While sentencing protocols on non-violent, low level possession crimes are changing, the need for an experienced criminal defense attorney cannot be understated. A skilled lawyer can analyze the situation and highlight critical extenuating circumstances that may positively affect a potential sentence.

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