The Law: Fixed Sentences Gain Favor

Conservatives and cons alike see them as less capricious

For a century the indeterminate sentence has been the sweetheart of prison reformers. Yet this month Illinois becomes the fourth state in two years—after Maine, California and Indiana—to install a system of judicially fixed, predetermined sentences in place of the traditional, often capricious program of discretionary release by parole authorities. Moves are afoot in 15 other states to do the same. As the respected Corrections Magazine puts it, "Determinate sentencing is clearly an idea whose time has come."

In most states, judges can sentence a...

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