Sentencing Policy

(This is an archived page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book.  Current versions are at book contents).

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 two problems:

·     Sentences for some crimes become disproportionate compared to other crimes.

·     Some people are unnecessarily sent to prison, most notably in America.  An article in Time, for example, argued that 39% of Prisoners Should Not Be in Prison.  There are effective alternatives, as described in the next section (5.2.7). 

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.