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Indeterminate Sentencing: To Be or Not to Be? Report

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Updated: Sep 13th, 2022


This paper examines the appropriateness of indeterminate sentencing related to juvenile delinquency. Starting with the overview of the current juvenile justice system, including prevention, punishment, and rehabilitation, the paper identifies advantages and disadvantages of indeterminate sentencing, focusing on rehabilitation options, inclusiveness, and potential disparity. After that, it explores the impact of the mentioned type of sentencing on recidivism, stating that it promotes positive outcomes. The role of diversity programs that imply redirection of juvenile offenders is evaluated as important in the course of research. It is noted that family counselling, mental health treatment, and other vocational and educations means are essential in terms of rehabilitation and recidivism reduction. Based on the relevant sources, the effectiveness of the restorative justice is also discussed and stated that accountability, competence, and public safety as well as offender-victim balance are the key aspects of this type of justice.

Overview of the Current State of Juvenile Criminal Recidivism

Nowadays juvenile criminal recidivism is considered to be a serious problem that needs precise attention from public and criminal justice. The previous behavior serves as a signal to predict the future actions of a juvenile offender. In this case, the most effective strategy is to prevent him or her from continuing committing crimes. It should be noted that each of the states has its system of juvenile recidivism measurement and definition, yet certain common trends may be identified. According to the report that was sponsored by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) youth recidivism was declined more than twice from 1997 to 2011 (“Measuring and using juvenile recidivism data to inform policy, practice, and resource allocation”, 2014). Currently, the effectiveness of preventative measures is evaluated as insufficient that is caused by the prevalence of the negative approach. Instead of focusing on the creation of appropriate social and economic conditions, great efforts are made to prevent criminals from the repeated crime. For example, special youth violence and activities are developed to engage young people in public life and show that the lack of moral guidelines is pernicious.

The traditional intervention aimed at struggling with juvenile offenders involves incapacitation that is also known as detention, deterrence, and community restraint. It is considered that imprisonment can prevent the future juvenile crimes by frightening potential recidivists with its repugnant conditions. Many adolescents who were once put in prison tend to continue their criminal actions. However, the punitive punishment keeps them from committing crimes while they stay in prison. At this point, controversial debates arise on the question of indeterminate sentencing that implies indefinite period of incarceration and relies on behavior of an offender. The current statistics show that this measure is quite ambiguous (Ryan, Abrams, & Huang, 2014). The benefits and disadvantages of the mentioned type of punishment will be discussed in the following section of this paper.

Along with punishment, there are rehabilitation options. First of all, it should be stressed that rehabilitation is opposite to punishment and focuses on the recovering of a juvenile offender. In particular, it is necessary to integrate these youths into the society, helping them to assimilate and become an integral part of it (Lim, 2014). At this point, the key objective of the correctional facilities is to make sure that an offender is aware of his or her current resources, problems, and needs as plenty of juveniles has to encounter poverty, abuse, and unemployment after release. Once they served their sentences, juveniles are given the second chance. Primarily, rehabilitation focuses on such treatment options as behavior therapy (family rehabilitation or group housing, for example), probation supervision, various types of training that depend on a particular offender, and so on. The rehabilitation model is rather important to prepare juvenile offenders for a new life and reduce juvenile delinquency acts as it is expected to address personal challenges of every offender,

Benefits and Disadvantages of Indeterminate Sentencing

Indefinite sentencing is applied when the period of time an offender has to serve his or her punishment is uncertain. This may be probation, incarceration, or any other means of punishment. The range of time usually depends on the appropriateness of a convict and may vary from several months to years. Among the most typical cases that are attributed to indeterminate sentencing, there are felony crimes. It should be noted that this issue sparks lively debates about its benefits and flaws each of which is to be considered in detail.

One of the positive aspects of indeterminate sentencing is rehabilitation principle. Paying attention to the fact that every juvenile offender is an individual, it focuses on personal needs and characteristics. Meanwhile, the fact that an offender has a potential opportunity to be released earlier gives him or her hope for the better future and thus promotes correction in a timely manner (Kelly, 2015). The core idea here is that juveniles understand that society tries to help them rather than just to punish and put in prison. In other words, even when they commit a crime, juvenile offenders continue to be members of society. They realize that it is their behavior that can release them and let back to live like before. In case of good behavior, early release is possible while bad one leads to prolongation of sentencing. One more advantage of indeterminate sentencing refers to the fact that everything counts. This means that not only an individual’s crime is taken into account but also his or her criminal history, conduct, and so on.

The disadvantages of indeterminate sentencing involve issues that are associated with unfair decisions, For example, it may cause discrimination when minorities can be given tougher sentences due to too much power on parole boards (Kelly, 2015). Another question causing many debates is whether justice releases right people at a right time or not. For example, a murderer can be released even earlier than a burglar if the first one had a good conduct, and the second one had not. This is rather controversial issue that may lead to disparity. Besides, even consistent good behavior cannot guarantee that a juvenile will not recidivate. Also, some inmates may perceive court’s decisions as something unfair as one person is sent in prison while the other one is given indeterminate sentencing for the same crime (Kelly, 2015). This induces aggressiveness and mistrust to the justice system, thus breaking the rehabilitative function.

Speaking of the appropriateness of indeterminate sentencing for different types of juvenile offenders, it is possible to note that it applies to any offender in case his or her criminal history or amenability cause doubt (Ashworth & Zedner, 2015). However, it is the best solution for first-time offenders who have more opportunities to rehabilitate. As for repeat offenders, they are usually given indeterminate sentencing until the age of majority. Thus, the mentioned type of sentencing is best for those who commit crime for the first time.

Impact of Indefinite Imprisonment on Recidivism

Indeterminate sentencing is a powerful means to secure society and correct juvenile offenders simultaneously. Since it implies that an offender will be held until he or she presents minimal risk, it is necessary to point out that this is quite useful instrument of justice. Zhang, Zhang, and Vaughn (2014) state that “the effects of different sentencing models on reoffending may be largely contingent on the implementation and operation of state programs” (p. 711). Despite different state regulations, it is still possible to distinguish some common features of indefinite imprisonment on recidivism. Theoretically, it inherently reduces repeated crimes due to humanistic nature and ability to prevent institutionalization that is given to juveniles. Compared to traditional sentencing, it confidently helps to minimize crime rates.

Precisely speaking, indeterminate sentencing allows reducing recidivism due to the raise of moral standards and guidelines. A good moral character is properly established in offenders so that they can return to their previous lives. Such a humane approach makes juvenile offenders re-consider their actions and come up with right conclusions. Practically, the evidence illustrates that the state-specific survival identified that such states as New York and North Carolina that implemented indeterminate sentencing significantly reduced juvenile recidivism rates (Zhang et al., 2014). Even though the reduction is not so crucial, it is still important and shows that the justice system has a correct direction. With this in mind, one may note that the impact of the mentioned type of sentencing on recidivism is positive and provides essential grounds for the perspective research and practice.

Effectiveness of Diversion Program for Juvenile Offenders

Youth diversion programs are oriented at redirection of youthful offenders from crimes they have committed to various alternative rehabilitation means. As a rule, diversion programs aim to provide services to an offender along with his or her family and help them to cope with the problem. Among the typical services, one may note evaluation and screening, training programs, mental health treatment, family relationships counselling, crisis intervention, etc. Every juvenile is considered separately to ensure the appropriateness of the selected diversion program.

The research shows that the effectiveness of these programs is proved practically. Wilson and Hoge (2013) argue that “in 60 of the 73 programs, the recidivism rate of diverted youth was lower than that of youth processed by the traditional justice system” (p. 504). In particular, the mentioned results were achieved through the reduction of out-of-home placements and increase of youth awareness and involvement. The diversion programs’ success also lies in the fact that they understand that juvenile offenses are usually minor and were committed under certain complicated circumstances (Wilson & Hoge, 2013). For example, it can be the lack of money along with a strong desire to buy something. Being unhappy and lacking moral guidelines, he or she steals or commits some other crimes. To prevent and reduce juvenile violence, the justice system develops and implements various activities that were mentioned above, promoting the importance of moral, social, and legal standards.

The diversion programs also imply the introduction of various family- and youth-oriented projects. For instance, the study conducted by Adirim and Supplee (2013) claims that Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) is an important means for the deterrence and decrease of juvenile offenses. This federal program focuses on community-specific improvements that, in their turn, are likely to lead to the decreased number of juvenile offenders. The key benefit of the mentioned program is that home visits are quite significant as they present the opportunity to contact the family directly and provide it with essential information, clarifying how to communicate with a young person to prevent juvenile recidivism. The fact that this intervention is successfully used in such communities as Chicago, IL and Portland, OR proves the effectiveness of MIECHV that is part of diversion programs.

Role of Restorative Justice Efforts

The critical issue of the restorative justice is not punishing or treating but rather assessing harm to citizens and community, determining potential recuperative activities to improve the current situation, and specifying who is responsible. The restorative system claims that offenders, victims, and communities are to be considered together in the context of the integrative approach. The restorative justice programs can be applied at any stage of criminal justice according to a state legislation. A victim and an offender should be able to withdraw a consent at any time during the process (Kelly, 2015). The agreements are reached by the parties voluntarily and contain only reasonable and proportionate obligations. Also, when the case is transferred to a restorative process. all the differences as well as cultural differences of the parties.

The role of the restorative system is great as it promotes the elevation of victims and argues that they should be amended by offenders while the rights of the latter are also to be taken into account. From the above statement, it becomes evident that the key mission of the restorative justice is to find and keep a balance between victim-centred and offender-centred approaches. Accountability, competency, and public safety are the three core goals that are achieved by equitable resource allocation (Kelly, 2015). In particular, the restorative measures ensure that an offender will take full responsibility for his or her actions and realize harm that was brought to a victim and a community. The accomplishment of the above goal is gained by a range of educational, vocational, and some other options that compose competence of an offender. For example, the study by Solomon and Nwankwoala (2014) that was conducted in Nigeria shows that ” in relation to the conventional criminal justices, restorative justice approaches have yielded some positive results for young person, victims, and families” (p. 134). The qualitative data collected in the article proves that the role of the restorative justice is essential. Furthermore, the problem-oriented focus maximizes public safety and victim contentment. As a result, the restorative justice helps to reduce recidivism and provide victims with greater satisfaction compared to the traditional justice system.


To sum it up, it seems appropriate to emphasize that indeterminate sentencing implies unlimited time and depends on an offender’s behaviour. It is a useful type of sentencing that has both positive and negative aspects related to juvenile delinquency and recidivism. In the course of this paper, it was revealed that indeterminate sentencing focuses on rehabilitation principle and personal needs of a juvenile. At the same time, its uncertainty may cause disparity as well the subsequent mistrust to the justice system. It was also determined that diversion programs and restorative justice are effectively employed to reduce juvenile recidivism rates compared to the traditional system. Indeterminate sentencing is the best decision for those who committed a crime for the first time as they have more chances to rehabilitate.


Adirim, T., & Supplee, L. (2013). Overview of the federal home visiting program. Pediatrics, 132(1), 59-64.

Ashworth, A., & Zedner, L. (2015). Preventive justice. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Kelly, W. R. (2015). Criminal justice at the crossroads: transforming crime and punishment. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Lim, H. M. (2014). Juvenile justice: Where rehabilitation takes centre stage. Singapore: Academy Publishing.

Measuring and using juvenile recidivism data to inform policy, practice, and resource allocation. (2014). Web.

Ryan, J. P., Abrams, L. S., & Huang, H. (2014). First-time violent juvenile offenders: Probation, placement, and recidivism. Social Work Research, 38(1), 7-18.

Solomon, O. J., & Nwankwoala, R. (2014). The role of restorative justice in complementing the justice system and restoring community values in Nigeria. Asian Journal of Humanities and Social Science, 2(3), 126-137.

Wilson, H. A., & Hoge, R. D. (2013). The Effect of Youth Diversion Programs on Recidivism. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 40(5), 497-518.

Zhang, Y., Zhang, L., & Vaughn, M. S. (2014). Indeterminate and determinate sentencing models. Crime and Delinquency, 60(5), 693-715.

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