The Effectiveness Of Sentencing Options

By Melissa Hamilton
The purposes of sentencing were first specified in statute in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and include punishment and the prevention of crime. This paper focuses on the possible preventive effectiveness of key criminal sanctions.
Re-offending rates are the most common measure of effectiveness – although others have been proposed (and are discussed below). At sentencing, courts attempt to prevent further offending through the imposition of sanctions which deter, incapacitate, or rehabilitate offenders. To this end, sentencers employ a range of different disposals including: immediate custody; suspended sentence orders; community orders; and fines.
1 This paper reviews the latest evidence relating to the effectiveness of the first three of these sentences and summarises the latest cost estimates of different disposals. The first part of this paper provides background information about effectiveness and re-offending.
The paper then summarises research which compares the re-offending rates associated with different sanctions uncorrected for variables which may explain these differences. Then it describes findings from Ministry of Justice research (and other agencies) which compares re-offending rates after controlling for other relevant variables such as offenders’ prior records and their risk of reoffending.
As will be seen, the two bodies of research reach the same general conclusions. The paper concludes by noting some important research priorities.
Read the full report here.