BJS: Bureau of Justice Statistics

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Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS)
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Crime and Justice in the United States
and in England and Wales, 1981-96

Time served

Incarcerated murderers:  time served Incarcerated rapists:  time served
Incarcerated robbers:  time served Incarcerated assaulters:  time served
Incarcerated buglars:  time served Incarcerated motor vehicle theft:  time served

To the chart data

Notes on figures 55-60: "Time served" is based on correctional institution data on persons released nationwide from incarceration during the year. Incarceration is defined in Notes on figures 31-36. Fragmentary data on "time served" had to be assembled to form national estimates of time served in the United States. National data on "time served" were specially calculated in England (for offenders released from prisons or young offender institutions) for years in which crime victim surveys were conducted. For the sake of consistency, "time served" in the United States is shown for years covered in previous graphics. Crime definitions for the graphics are given in Notes on figures 5-10.

In both the United States and England (including Wales), virtually all convicted offenders sentenced to incarceration are eventually released. The amount of time they serve before release is almost always shorter than the sentence that the court imposed. There are two major reasons. Good behavior while in confinement earns incarcerated offenders early release in both countries. Also, parole boards in England and in most States give offenders a chance to demonstrate their readiness to return to society by releasing them early and placing them on parole. During the time they are on parole, they must stay out of trouble and follow the rules of their parole. Otherwise they can be returned to confinement to complete their sentence.

Prior to 1992 in England, parole boards had jurisdiction over inmates with sentences of 10½ months or more. Such inmates were eligible for parole after serving one-third of their sentence (or a minimum of 6 months) and had to be released from confinement once they had served two-thirds. Those with sentences under 10½ months were automatically released after serving two-thirds of their term unless they misbehaved in prison and lost remission. Beginning in 1992, all English inmates, regardless of sentence length, were required to serve a minimum of one-half of their sentence. Once they serve half, those with sentences under four years are automatically released and those with sentences of four years or more become eligible for parole.

Parole regulations in the United States vary from State to State, between Federal and State parole, between State and local jurisdictions and over time. Consequently, they cannot be simply described. Some States and the Federal Government abolished parole, replacing it with a system in which the inmate can reduce the period in confinement through good behavior, but requiring some minimum percentage of the sentence be served (for example, 85% of Federal sentences over one year). Most States have parole boards with jurisdiction over persons with sentences of a year or more. The point at which an inmate becomes eligible for parole depends on numerous factors (for example, sentence length, type of felony), and the factors vary from State to State.

"Time served" is the amount of time that incarcerated offenders spend in confinement before being released. Is time served in confinement before release equally long in the two countries?

  • Time served is greater in the United States than in England, mostly because courts impose longer sentences in the United States than in England.

    According to latest available figures (1994 in the United States, 1995 in England) time served, on average, was --

    • longer for murder in the United States (10½ years) than in England (8 ¼ years) (figure 55)
    • longer for rape in the United States (5½ years) than in England (nearly 4 years) (figure 56)
    • longer for robbery in the United States (3½ years) than in England (nearly 2 years) (figure 57)
    • longer for assault in the United States (2 years) than in England (6 months) (figure 58)
    • longer for burglary in the United States (1½ years) than in England (6 months) (figure 59)
    • longer for motor vehicle theft in the United States (just under 1 year) than in England (3 months) (figure 60).

    Is time served getting longer in both countries?

  • Of the six crimes investigated, time served is getting longer for two crimes in the United States (murder and rape) and three crimes in England (murder, rape, robbery).

    From 1981 to the latest year of data (1994 in the United States, 1995 in England) --

    • time served for murder rose nearly 3 years in both the United States (94 months in 1981 rising to 127 in 1994) and England (69 months in 1981 rising to 100 in 1995), reflecting increases over the period in the lengths of murder sentences imposed (figure 55)
    • time served for rape rose 8 months in the United States (59 months in 1981 rising to just over 67 in 1994) despite the fact that sentence lengths for rape had not increased; while time served for rape rose 2 years in England (20 months in 1981 rising to 44 in 1995), reflecting an increase in the length of rape sentences imposed (figure 56)
    • time served for robbery was trendless in the United States; while time served for robbery rose over 7 months in England (13 months in 1981 rising to just over 20 in 1995), reflecting an increase in the length of robbery sentences imposed (figure 57)
    • time served for assault was trendless in both the United States and England (figure 58)
    • time served for burglary was trendless in both the United States and England (figure 59)
    • time served for motor vehicle theft was trendless in the United States but decreased in England (figure 60).

    Chart data - in spreadsheets
    Figure 55 Figure 56 Figure 57
    Murder Rape Robbery

    Year
    United
    States

    England
    United
    States

    England
    United
    States

    England
    1981 94.0 68.8 59.3 20.3 41.0 13.1
    1982
    1983 105.7 63.7 46.9 20.5 37.9 11.3
    1984
    1985
    1986 108.9 53.4 48.9
    1987 65.8 27.2 16.6
    1988 112.3 62.4 41.0
    1989
    1990 112.8 59.9 41.4
    1991 95.2 29.5 20.4
    1992 122.2 69.5 42.0
    1993 105.1 35.7 19.5
    1994 126.9 67.6 42.8
    1995 99.8 44.2 20.5
    Figure 58 Figure 59 Figure 60
    Assault Burglary Motor vehicle theft


    Year
    United
    States

    England
    United
    States

    England
    United
    States

    England
    1981 21.3 6.0 17.1 6.3 12.1 4.8
    1982
    1983 22.6 5.2 17.5 5.8 12.5 4.7
    1984
    1985
    1986 26.8 21.3 13.5
    1987 6.7 6.6 4.0
    1988 24.4 18.9 10.3
    1989
    1990 22.9 21.0 12.6
    1991 8.2 7.9 2.8
    1992 24.0 20.2 13.3
    1993 7.3 7.2 3.1
    1994 23.6 18.0 11.1
    1995 6.1 6.5 3.4


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