Equality and human dignity: The missing ingredients in American sentencing

Michael Tonry

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Concern for equality and human dignity is largely absent from American sentencing. Prison sentences are imposed much more often than in any other Western country. Prison terms are incomparably longer. The greater frequency of imprisonment is a product of punitive attitudes and politicization of crime control policies. The longer terms result partly from abolition of parole release in every jurisdiction for all or some inmates, but mostly from the proliferation since the mid-1980s of mandatory minimum, three-strikes, life without parole, and truth-in-sentencing laws. The ideas that offenders should be treated as equals and with concern and respect for their interests largely disappeared, though they had been animating values of earlier indeterminate and determinate sentencing systems. Their disregard is evident in the nature of contemporary laws but also in low-visibility policies and practices including the near absence of meaningful systems of appellate sentence review, low standards of proof at sentencing, and the absence of standards for sentencing of people convicted of multiple offenses at one time or over time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)459-496
Number of pages38
JournalCrime and Justice
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

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