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.