Vanderbilt Law Review

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At present, our system of criminal law administration has a considerable Rube Goldberg quality to it. Once the system decides to imprison a particular defendant--if we except from the generalization the couple of states that recently changed their laws in fundamental respects--the judge naturally asks himself what will happen when this man goes to prison. The answer is that the convicted offender will sit in prison for as long as the parole board wants him to. The judge must next consider whether any constraints exist on the parole board's decisions on when to release people from prison. In a third of the statutory sentences the judge can specify that the defendant must remain imprisoned for up to one third or one half of the time to which he is sentenced. The question then becomes how long the judge wants a particular defendant to stay in prison. He knows that a nine-year sentence will mean minimum parole eligibility after three years,and that the parole board releases prisoners on their first eligibility date in eighty-five percent of the cases. Therefore, judges purpose-fully inflate sentences to discount for their knowledge that the parole board decreases the sentences which a judge imposes.