WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
February 01 2023
WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO

The myth of tough sanctions and crime deterrence

The myth of tough sanctions and crime deterrence

Though widely believed by both  police and  public, harsh punishment being an effective crime deterrent is a myth. An academic review into the effectiveness of sentencing commissioned by the Sentencing Council of England and Wales confirmed this. The review found no evidence  to conclude general deterrents or individual deterrents succeed in reducing crime.

General deterrents can only work if the offenders know and understand them. Those who are likely to commit crime have no more than a vague idea about sentencing. General deterrents also carry the assumption that peple who commit crime make rational decisions on ‘benefits and costs’ of criminality. Evidence suggests otherwise. Most crime is spontaneous; those who commit crimes are unlikely to think rationally about the sentence they might get if they are caught and convicted. An example of the failure of harsh punishment as a deterrent is exemplified in Transform Justice’s research on assaults on NHS workers where, although the penalty has drastically increased, the number of offences has risen.

Individual deterrents run into many of the same issues as general deterrents. There is evidence that harsh sentencing and long sentences do not prevent reoffending.

Suspended prison sentences may have a deterrent effect. A suspended prison sentence is only activated if the defendant is reconvicted or breaches conditions provided by their suspended sentence. This aligns with evidence showing that swiftness and certainty of sanctions make a more effective difference to crime and reoffending than severity does. However, more research is required to fully clarify the success behind suspended sentences.

‘We note that some have argued it is time to accept that sentence severity has no effect on the level of crime in society’, Transform Justice stated.

Find out more here.