From the 1970s until about 2010, the number of individuals incarcerated in state prisons, federal prisons, and local jails increased dramatically. The main drivers were (1) changes in laws leading to longer, often mandatory, sentences, (2) "truth-in-sentencing" legislation requiring individuals convicted of violent crimes to serve at least 80% of their sentences, and (3) increased use of incarceration for drug-related crimes. Since then, there have been concerted efforts in some jurisdictions to reduce the number of individuals incarcerated.
There have been claims for decades that in the United States the death penalty serves as a deterrent. When there are executions, violent crime decreases. But there have also been claims that executions “brutalize” society because government agencies diminish respect for life when the death penalty is applied. With brutalization comes an increase in violent crime, and especially homicides. Both sides assert that there is credible research supporting their position.
With all of publicity surrounding crime statistics, it is easy to get a misleading impression about the risks that homicides pose. Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control can provide a factual basis from which to assess the real risks.
Recent empirical research has shown that juveniles do not achieve complete psychosocial maturity until post-adolescence and that trying juveniles as adults can be associated with elevated rates of criminal recidivism (Steinberg & Cauffman, 1996). In response to these as well as other concerns, several states including Illinois, Conneticut, Massachusetts, Mississippi, and New Hampshire, have recently raised their legal ages of majority in the hopes of reducing juvenile offending rates.
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