Public Opinion and Sentencing
When put in a judge’s shoes, the public would give similar or lower sentences
Sentencing attracts a lot of public debate. While public surveys show that, in abstract terms, most people think that sentences imposed by the courts are too lenient, research demonstrates that:
- public opinion about sentencing is largely built on widely held misconceptions about crime and sentencing; and
- when people are provided with more information on a particular case – similar to the information a judge would have – they would impose a very similar sentence to the judge. In fact, a recent detailed study showed that, when provided with more information about four actual cases, the public would have given lower sentences in 3 out of the 4 cases.
This research discredits calls for harsher penalties to satisfy perceived public opinion of sentencing as lenient. Evidence shows that harsher sentences are unlikely to improve public confidence in the courts or to change public attitudes to sentencing. The message from sentencing research is clear – the public needs better information about sentencing and criminal justice policies, not simplistic calls for harsher sentencing.
Download this fact sheet below:
|Public opinion and sentencing||154 KB|