Incentive Grants law and Truth-in-Sentencing

A group of statutes known as "truth-in-sentencing" are concerned with prisoner sentencing. These laws' main goal is to create guidelines for the justice system that would allow for the elimination of discretionary parole releases and the introduction of a more open punishment system. TIS policies make sure that the prisoner's time served closely resembles the initial sentence imposed by the court. Knowing how long the perpetrator will be held in custody is also helpful.

The term "Truth-in-sentencing" and its association with the policies included in the United States Federal Crime Bill, though similar laws have been passed in Australia and Canada as well. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (that was later on amended in 1996) deal with two different types of programs i.e. the federal Violent-Offender Incarceration (VOI) and Truth-in-sentencing (TIS) policies (Shepherd, 2002). The act also granted incentive grants for the states that fulfilled the set criteria. These grants are provided for the improvement of state correctional system and to increase their capacity so that dangerous offenders could be kept in confinement without facing any administrative problem. States can apply for grants under one or both programs if the set criterion is met. The percentage of TIS funds allocated to each state is similar to the percentage of violent crimes committed in that state; the higher the violent crime rate in a state the higher the percentage of TIS funds that state will get. A state can apply for TIS grants if it meets at least one of these criteria. It has implemented the laws that require convicts to at least serve 85% of his prison sentence. It has passed a law that will enable it to convict violent offenders to serve a minimum of 85% of their sentence (Shepherd, 2002), but the law should be enforced within three years of its grant application. Whereas, VOI requirement is even simpler than TIS funds criteria. For VOI funding, the state only has to ensure that it has implemented or will implement laws that will ensure three things. Convicts serve considerable duration of their sentences. Their punishments are severe enough, according to their crimes. Their time served is appropriately related to their criminal record and public safety

TIS Programs and Administrative Support

The above-mentioned criterion qualifies the state for necessary VOI funding. For a greater share of funding, states have to additional rules that mainly comprises of increase in the number of criminals' conviction and the average time they served. In 1995, a separate body by the name of Correction Program Office (CPO) was set up to administer the Violent-Offender Incarceration (VOI) and Truth-in-sentencing (TIS) program. CPO is responsible for many tasks including, reviewing of applications for funding submitted by states, technical assistance for implementation of the program and monitoring the implementation of VOI/TIS. In 1996, TIS eligibility criteria were revised and amended first VOI/TIS program was implemented, and funds were appropriated through Department of Justice Appropriations Act.

Purpose of Truth-in-Sentencing Incentive Grants

A fair and transparent judiciary system is compulsory for every nation. It ensures the smooth working of all social institutions and creates a balance in the society. This is why all governments introduce and implement various laws and regulations to eliminate crime and injustice from the society. Law Enforcement Act and The Violent Crime Control that were introduced in 1994 was also an attempt to bring clarity and fairness in prison term system. The Truth-in-Sentencing law of 1994 is the result of sentencing reforms that started in the early 70s. As stated earlier, the purpose of these reforms was to make sure that prisoners serve prison time as imposed by courts. The law is an attempt to eradicate previous policies that facilitated the reduction in sentence duration such as good time, earned-time and parole board release. Some of the major factors that instigated the introduction of this law back in 1994 include increase in crime rate, especially in violent crimes, growing interest of political parties in crime in the 1990s, sensational portrayal of violence in media, public's dissatisfaction with the existing judicial system, and 1984's Federal law of Truth-in-Sentencing (Turner, 1999).

Motivation for State Adoption of TIS Laws

After the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act many states were motivated to pass the TIS laws. Most of the states were already working on introducing the stricter laws due increase in crime rate. Truth-in-Sentencing Incentive Grants further motivated states to pass the law amended 1996. The primary objective of introducing the Truth-in-Sentencing Incentive Grants was to rid the states of the financial burden they will have to face due to the increased number of prisoners. Elimination of disciplinary credits, good time and corrections centers and requirement of offenders to serve the entire minimum sentence meant increased number of offenders confined in prison (Turner, 2006). This requires not only upgrading of detention facilities but also higher number of police personals and accommodation cost of prisoners. The purpose of Truth-in-Sentencing Incentive Grants was to provide financial assistance to states to motivate and facilitate them in the adoption of the new law.

Other mandatory sentencing movements

For over three decades from the 1970s till 1990s Sentencing laws kept evolving. In early 70s states followed the indeterminate sentencing model which gave the authority to the parole board to decide when a prison should be released. This gave way to powerful criminals to reduce their prison term by influencing the parole board (Turner, 2006). Due to public pressure, to introduce a uniform and longer prison time for violent criminals sentencing guidelines for mandatory minimums were introduced in the 1980's. However, prisons still managed to reduce their sentence time through various options like good prison behavior earned-time. Also, to avoid prison crowding authorities gave early release to prisoners as well. To tackle both these problems and also to ensure that criminals serve their punishment, US Congress passed Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 and some amendments were made in 1996.

Changes brought by Truth-in-Sentencing

Most of the states implemented Truth-in-Sentencing system although these states were not necessarily motivated by the federal grant incentives. But whatever their reason for adoption maybe, it did buy a huge change in the judicial system. There is a section of society that is against the truth-in-sentencing and suggests the pre-1994 sentencing practice. They are of the view that this practice is not only a burden on the state treasury, but it also hinders the rehabilitation process of the guilty convict who wants to repent. But at the same time, there is also no denying the fact the fact that Truth-in-Sentencing has significantly decreased the repeated offenses. It is also a fact that when Truth-in-Sentencing was introduced back in 1996, a significant reduction in crime was witnessed as compared to the crime rate of the 1980s. It has also eliminated personal biasness and sympathy factor in litigation (Turner, 2001). All offenders with similar crimes have to go through the same process leaving no space for influencing the justice system in any way. This has brought credibility to the criminal justice system and has made the society more secure for the people.


For better or for worse, it has become the central party or criminal justice system. More and more states are now pushing towards the introduction of tougher laws on security and safety of citizens is more important than monetary calculations. This is the reason why almost all states in the USA have adopted Truth-in-sentencing although their laws vary from state to state and so does the percentage of the prison term to be served.



Shepherd, J. M. (2002). Police, prosecutors, criminals, and determinate sentencing: The truth about

truth-in-sentencing laws. The Journal of Law and Economics, 45(2), 509-533.

Turner, S., Greenwood, P. W., Chen, E., & Fain, T. (1999). The impact of truth-in-sentencing and three

strikes legislation: Prison populations, state budgets, and crime rates. Stan. L. & Pol'y Rev., 11,


Turner, S., Fain, T., Greenwood, P. W., & Chen, E. Y. (2001). National Evaluation of the Violent

Offender Incarceration/Truth-in-Sentencing Incentive Grant Program.

Turner, S., Greenwood, P. W., Fain, T., & Chiesa, J. R. (2006). An evaluation of the federal

government’s violent offender incarceration and truth-in-sentencing incentive grants. The Prison

Journal, 86(3), 364-385.

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