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If you live in the United States, you must have heard of determinate and indeterminate sentencing. For example, “the court sentences the offender to three years in prison and the court sentences the offender to three to five years in prison” are two different sentences.

This article will define determinate and indeterminate sentences, highlight their difference and the probable impacts of each.

Determinate sentences

A determinate sentence (also flat sentences) is one in which the court decides the maximum period for the offender’s imprisonment. In other words, the court issues a fixed or a definite prison term according to the law. In addition, the board of parole cannot alter determinate sentences. For example, the court will sentence a convict to one year in prison. This form of sentencing is uncommon in the United States.

Pros and cons of determinate sentences

In some cases, convicts serving determinate sentences can get “merit time allowances” upon their imprisonments hence permitting an advance release to community supervision.

 On the negative side, determinate sentences are rigid because of their fixed nature. Further, it limits advance release, thus causing overcrowding in prisons. Also, determinate sentences elongate sentences

Indeterminate sentences

In an indeterminate sentence, the jury gives the minimum and the maximum incarceration period. The term is not specific, but it’s a range. For example, you can an indeterminate sentence of five to ten years. Indeterminate sentences are the commonest in the United States. Detainees with indeterminate sentences can apply to the board of parole for consideration for early release. The assumption for indeterminate sentencing is that convicts should be confined till they can prove that they have reformed.

Pros and cons of indeterminate sentences

The is the most common type of sentencing. It depopulates prisons and encourages good behavior within prisons. However, the opponents of this sentencing type argue that criminals are freed prior to completing their jail terms.


Just as the names state, determinate sentences involve a specific jail term, while indeterminate sentences involve a range. Determinate sentences aren’t common because they are kind of rigid.

Indeterminate sentences are common in most jurisdictions in the United States. This is because it encourages discipline among inmates, helps returnees adjust to the life out of prison.

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