126.96.36.199 Sentencing Policy
(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents. An archived copy of this page is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/5263.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 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.