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Report: U.S. Assesses Long Sentences More Often Than Other Nations


Over the past few decades, nations everywhere have assessed longer prison sentences. However, according to a new Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ) report by Lila Kazemiana Sociology Professor at John Jay College, the U.S. still dishes out long sentences more than any other country.

Violent crimes, especially homicides, play an outsized role in the U.S.’s high use of lengthy prison sentences, which are sentences that carry 10 years of imprisonment or more, the report found. However, they remain a far cry from Europe’s numbers.

The study found that the U.S. is closer but still distant from Latin American countries. However, the U.S. used longer sentences than countries with higher rates of violence.

The study found that the average percentage of people sentenced to 10 or more years for a sample of 40 states was just over 52 percent. Georgia had the highest rate in the sample, at over 74 percent of incarcerated individuals sentenced to more than 10 years.

The study found that Moldova, the nation with the next highest percentage, incarcerated 37 percent of people for over 10 years.

But the U.S. has much higher homicide rates than European nations. For example, in 2018, Louisiana saw 11.4 homicides per 100,000 population, while the Netherlands reported less than one homicide per 100,000, according to the report.

Still, the report found that the U.S. implements far lengthier sentences.

For homicide, the U.S. imposed an average sentence of just over 40 years. The next highest averages were Mexico at 34.1 years and El Salvador at 33.5 years.

According to the report, Hungary led European nations at an average of 9.3 years for homicide, or over four times less than the U.S.

But the report found a similar trend regarding the average prison sentence for sexual assault convictions. The U.S. average sentence (12.2 years) was double the next highest nation, Hungary, which had an average sentence of 6 years.

According to the report, other factors contributing to the U.S. being an outlier to other nations were that U.S. prisons hold 40 percent of individuals sentenced to life worldwide and 83 percent of those convicted with life without the possibility of parole.

The study found in 2016, nearly 162,000 people were serving a life sentence in the U.S., six times higher than the total for Europe’s entire continent, including Turkey and Russia.

Despite the report’s findings, the time people serve behind bars has a much smaller gap between the U.S. and other nations.

“This is the most authoritative and comprehensive report to date on how long sentences in the U.S. compare with those in other nations,” said John Maki, director of the Task Force on Long Sentences, in a press release.

“Its findings underscore the uniquely severe features of U.S. sentencing, which has more in common with developing nations than other affluent countries.”


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