Truth in sentencing is a concept put forward by some criminal justice advocates who argue that people should serve a substantial portion of the sentence handed down by a judge, instead of being released early on parole. Historically, prison systems have released prisoners early on probation when they behave well and are deemed to be less of a threat to society as a result. Someone sentenced to nine years in prison, therefore, might only serve six. Under truth in sentencing, that same person would be required to serve at least 85% of the nine year sentence.
There are a number of arguments to support this policy, and several governments have responded by passing truth in sentencing laws. It is believed to act as a deterrent to crime because criminals understand that if they are convicted, they will serve most of the resulting sentence in prison. In addition, these laws are also promoted as a way to protect the rights of victims and the general public; victims of violent crimes, for example, can be assured that the perpetrator will serve most of the sentence.
Arguments against such laws include the fact that they contribute to higher prison costs and overcrowding, and that they can remove the incentive for good behavior in prisons, which can lead to behavioral problems. When people are not being released early for good behavior, they may not be inclined to behave well, especially in a crowded prison.
Typically, proposals for truth in sentencing laws are also linked with other sentencing guidelines including mandatory minimum sentences. The first strip parole boards of their powers, while sentencing guidelines in turn act to limit the discretion of judges. When a judge passes sentence in a region with sentencing guidelines, she or he cannot waive or alter the sentence, even if this is believed to be in the interests of the guilty party or the public.
Reform of the criminal justice and penal systems is a complex issue, and it is often in flux in response to changing social attitudes about the justice system and the prison system. Regional laws can also be quite variable, depending on the demographic makeup of their populations. Some regions have liberal populations that would prefer to focus on rehabilitation, for example, while others have conservative populations that would prefer to see criminals serving traditional prison sentences.