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INDETERMINATE SENTENCE

The system of indeterminate sentence first began as an agency of correctional method for
young offenders so that they could be released earlier if they responded favorably to the
rehabilitative processes during the period of custody and control in the institution. The
maximum limit of confinement in their case could be the age of attaining majority. The
main object of indeterminate sentence is to inculcate hope rather than fear in the mind of
inmate undergoing imprisonment .It also makes the inmate realize that his future lies in
his own hands and he could secure an early release from the institution if he showed
interest and sincerity in work and labour allotted to him. The greatest advantage of
indeterminate sentence lies in the fact that it is aimed at correcting the inmate rather than
ill-treating him.
ORIGIN OF INDETERMINATE SENTENCE
Historically, the system of indeterminate sentence is known to have originated from
Spanish prisons in 1835.The practice of lodging young offenders in work-houses till the
time they were completely reformed was, however, prevalent in certain American states
even a century earlier. Under the Spanish system, the prisoners were organized into
groups of 1000-1500 called a company. One of the prisoners was to lead the company
and control and supervise the prisoners under him. He was called the commander of the
company. Thus, the system was modeled on military pattern. Under this arrangement
good behavior of the prisoner entitled him to proportionate reduction in his sentence to
the extent of one-third.
The Irish penal system also preferred indeterminate sentence to determinate one. The
inmates were kept in reformatories for an indeterminate period till they were reformed for
normal life. The system was greatly appreciated in U.S.A. and subsequently it received
statutory recognition in New York State in 1867.
Indeterminate sentence is applicable only to a few categories of offenders, mostly
juveniles and the first offenders. The period of indeterminate sentence usually varied
from 14-24 months. While in custody the inmates were to be kept under supervision and
monthly report was to be submitted in each case .The report was to be attested by a clergy
or a teacher. The period of indeterminate sentence prescribed for the first offenders varied
from a minimum of one year to a maximum as fixed for particular crime under the state
law.
The Indian penal law, however, does not provide for indeterminate sentence for the
reason that similar objective is attained by resorting to certain other correctional
techniques such as probation, parole and open air camp for prisoners. In fact the system
of parole is itself a modified form of indeterminate sentence. Moreover, certain Indian
penologists have expressed a view that adoption of the system of indeterminate sentence
would extent the scope of discretion for the magistracy which might be detrimental to the
interest of criminal justice. But it must be stated that this apprehension is rather
misleading because the judges in India have accepted sentencing as a part of their solemn

duty towards law and discharge their obligation in a realistic manner so as to attain the
objective of social defense.
CRITICS
Despite the merits of the system, indeterminate sentence has been criticized on many
counts. The main objections to this system are as follows:
The first and the most potential objections raised against this system is the uncertainty
about the exactness of the sentence which in itself is a severe punishment from the
psychological stand point. Most persons would definitely prefer a longer but a definite
term of sentence rather than a shorter but uncertain period of anxiety and agony.
Moreover prisoners with indeterminate sentence always suffer from a feeling of injustice
about their sentence in absence of any specified pre-determined definite rules. During the
term of their sentence, however short it may be, they remain completely in dark about the
exact time of their release.
Secondly, mistaken judgment of the prison board about fitness of a particular offender for
release is likely to result into his stay in the prison institution for a longer period than that
actually necessary in this case.
Thirdly, in absence of any satisfactory method to gauge with accuracy the offenders
fitness for release, it might happen that a prisoner is released prematurely or conversely,
he might be detained for a unduly longer period.
Fourthly, since the release under indeterminate sentence generally depends on the reports
of the prison warden the prisoners who antagonize the wardens are likely to be held in
prison for a longer time due to adverse reports against them. Conversely those who flatter
the wardens manipulate an early release through favorable reports.
Fifthly, indeterminate sentence produces sycophancy among the prisoners thus making
them to work for securing early release rather than to reform themselves sincerely for a
normal life.
Last but not the least, the prisoner undergoing a determinate sentence knows it for certain
that after he completes the term of his sentence he has a right to claim release
legitimately. The satisfaction of having completed the full term of sentence assures him
that his guilt has been washed off and he no longer remains a guilty person. The element
of self satisfaction is totally missing in case of indeterminate sentence