Acton Institute Powerblog

7 Figures: How long do criminals spend in prison?

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As the old saying goes, “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.” But how much time do you have to do if you commit a crime? Probably not as long as you’d imagine.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics recently released a report—Time Served in State Prison 2016—that reveals how long prisoners serve for a variety of criminal offenses. Here are seven figures from the report you should know:

1. The average time served by state prisoners released in 2016, from initial admission to initial release, was 2.6 years, and the median time served was 1.3 years. 

2. Criminals served an average of 46 percent of their maximum sentence length before their initial release. State prisoners initially released in 2016 served an average of 62 percent of their sentence if they were serving time for rape or sexual assault, and 38 percent if serving time for drug possession. Persons serving less than one year in state prison represented 40 percent of first releases in 2016.

3. Persons sentenced for murder or non-negligent manslaughter served an average of 15 years in state prison before their initial release.

4. Ninety-six percent of violent offenders released in 2016, including 70 percent of those sentenced for murder or non-negligent manslaughter, served less than 20 years before initial release from state prison. About three-quarters of violent offenders released from state prison in 2016 served at least one year before initial release.

5. Roughly 1 in 5 state prisoners released in 2016 after being sentenced for rape or sexual assault served 10 or more years before initial release.

6. On average, state prisoners serving time for property, drug, or public-order offenses served less than two years before initial release. Most offenders (59 percent) released from state prison in 2016 after serving time for drug possession served less than one year before their initial release.

7. By offense type, the median time served was 13.4 years for murder, 2.2 years for violent crimes excluding murder, 17 months for drug trafficking, and 10 months for drug possession.

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Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

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