(The latest version of this page is at Pattern Descriptions. An archived copy of this page is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition02/5263.htm)
Control over sentencing policy creates a tension between government and the judiciary. A government that wants to be seen as being "tough on crime" wants to impose stiff mandatory sentences, which can create three problems:
· Sentences for some crimes become disproportionate compared to other crimes.
· The penal system becomes overloaded, with rising prison populations. America has more than 1% of its population behind bars, for example.
· The circumstances of particular cases cannot be taken into account, leading to some absurdities – as was the case when California’s “three strikes” law resulted in a 25-year sentence for shoplifting.
It is hard to avoid drawing the conclusion that politicians' need for short-term popularity makes them unsuited to controlling sentencing. Judges can be respected and be accepted without being popular, if they are able to explain their decisions.
© PatternsofPower.org, 2014
 A 2008 University of Michigan report on the American prison population as a “national crisis” was summarised in an article that was available in May 2014 at http://www.physorg.com/news126279826.html.