Skip to content


Longer prison sentences do not work as a deterrent because criminals do not believe they will be caught with police detection rates so low, according to research by the judicial body that oversees sentencing.

A major study by the Sentencing Council said that the “low risk of detection” undermined “any deterrent effect” that longer sentences had on criminals.

It said this was one of five reasons why there was “no strong evidence” to support longer sentences having a “general deterrent effect” on offenders.

“Moreover, we note that some have argued it is time to accept that sentence severity has no effect on the level of crime in society,” said the council.

It’s the expected sentence – time times probability of being handed time – that matters.

27 thoughts on “Obviously”

  1. What deterred Gandhi?

    《I am, therefore, here to submit not to a light penalty but to the highest penalty. I do not ask for mercy. I do not plead any extenating act. I am here, therefore, to invite and cheerfully submit to the highest penalty that can be inflicted upon me for what in law is a deliberate crime, and what appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen. The only course open to you, the Judge, is, as I am going to say in my statement, either to resign your post, or inflict on me the severest penalty if you believe that the system and law you are assisting to administer are good for the people. 》

  2. So we shouldn’t bother with longer sentences because Plod is shit?

    Prison sentences are not imposed solely as a deterrent. They serve other purposes too, such as punishment and keeping criminals off the streets.

    The other arguments against tougher sentencing are just as weak as the one which made the headline.

  3. Deterrent only works for minor crimes and first time offenders. It what keeps most of society on the straight and narrow. But for habitual criminals it’s just part of the cost of the “job”.

  4. My guess is that sentences are so weak that the main deterrent is the bother of dealing with the police and going to court.

  5. Longer sentences would still keep the career criminals who do get caught off our streets for longer, so decrease the crime rate that way. This seems to have been neglected as a factor? Perhaps even they realise that the crims rarely get the longer sentences?

  6. Stretch X probability, as Tim says.
    So as probability of being caught declines (plod is useless) sentencing must be harsher to maintain equivalence.
    Prison building is the Keynesian stimulus we need.

  7. It’s necessary to have at least reasonably severe sentences to delude the honest into believing that the government is at least attempting to discourage crime and support the silly working suckers who keep everything going.

    If they don’t believe this they’ll riot or revolt, or just lynch and lash those who offend them. That’s what ‘justice’ is really all about.

  8. My contention is that many sentences are too long and some are woefully short. *If* the criminal is successfully rehabilitated (and we need to work rather harder at this) then there is no reason to spend more money housing them. *If* the criminal cannot be rehabilitated and is a continuing danger to others then he or she should be locked away from society until they die.

    Now you can have long debates about how easy this would be to implement, and how to do so, but once you recognise that long sentences do not necessarily work then you must change the system.

  9. Are you actually following what’s going on Tim? Worrying about prison sentences and arrest rates is deckchairs on the Titanic.

  10. A x B = C. So I propose hanging, drawing and quartering for Just Stop Oil type demos. Might put a few of the cunts off.

  11. It would help if people had some experience of criminals & the way they think. They do not indulge in calculations about risk of capture & penalty tariffs. They don’t expect to be caught or they don’t do the crime. So lengthy sentences are not a deterrent.
    That said, there is a situation at the bottom end of yoof crime where it’s almost a win-win situation. The penalties are so trivial, if they do get captured they gain the kudos of having been & being put through the system. They gain extra cred as a certified bad-boy

  12. @DiscoveredJoys
    We don’t know how to do rehabilitation. Most of the methods that might work would be considered crimes against humanity. “A Clockwork Orange” is not an instruction manual.

  13. The Sentencing Council has for many years been calling for softer and softer penalties, as many a magistrate will tell you. What you have read is a policy looking for a justification.

  14. Vast majority of sentences are so short there’s no plausible rehabilitation program provided. Hence the move towards non-custodial sentences I guess.

  15. Philip Scott Thomas

    There is a problem with sentences as deterrents. If a man is convicted of a crime then he should be punished for that crime, not for the hypothetical crimes a hypothetical man may commit in the future. That’s immoral.

    The same goes for sentences as rehabilitation. It is not the job of the state to “correct” a man’s character. Its job is simply to punish individual acts.

  16. Most of the reasons given above for punishing someone are secondary. If they are taken as the primary goal they are problematic. E.g.

    – Punishment is to rehabilitate the criminal (do you keep them locked up indefinitely if they aren’t rehabilitated?)
    – Punishment is to protect society (why not lock up those likely to commit crimes beforehand?)
    – Punishment is to provide a deterrent or example (actual guilt doesn’t matter, as long as people think they’re guilty).

    The primary reason to punish people is justice, because it’s deserved.

    As per CS Lewis in his essay on “the Humanitarian Theory of Punishment”, where he says it much better than I do.

  17. Rather than giving longer sentences, which may lead to appeals, simply stop the “50% off the sentence for good behaviour as soon as the prison van is driven through the prison gates”.
    Start the sentence with few privileges, all of which have to be earned through good behaviour and attitude. This would include time scales for release dates. I would suggest that being sent down for 8 years, and knowing you could be serving all of those 8 years, and not 4 years with the rest on licence, may concentrate the minds somewhat, especially if the sentence is being served in a proper prison and not HMP Butlins.

  18. “The council said there was even less evidence that “short, sharp shock” punishments for young offenders were effective as teenagers and young people aged over 18 “may still be in a formative phase of their life where deterrent effects as less likely (until as late as 25-30 in terms of neurological development)”.”

    That ain’t the problem. It’s that most of these kids weren’t growing up around a father who got that into them early and kept them in check.

    From the Guardian back in 2001, some stark data about this:-

    Why can Japan have unguarded vending machines everywhere? Because 2-3% of kids are born outside marriage. Why are only 2-3% of kids born outside of marriage? Because Japan doesn’t dish out benefits to single mothers like we do.

  19. Trick with no sleeve

    I have a plan. It requires no prisons at all. How does it work?
    Each crime is given a score. The value of the score depends on the crime. When a person is found guilty of a crime, his/her criminal record adds the score. When the criminal’s score reaches the ‘threshold for justice’, his/her number is put into a lottery. The odds are set at, say, 1 in 100,000. If his/her number comes up, he/she is executed. If not executed, the criminal is released. The next ‘threshold for justice’ is set at 1 in 10,000. If the criminal’s number comes, it’s execution. Each threshold is an order of magnitude smaller than the one before until the odds are 1 in 1.
    Different crimes have different scores, so to get into the 1 in 100,000 lottery a burglar may have to be found guilty a number of times. A murderer may go straight into the 1 in 100 lottery or the 1 in 10 if particularly egregious.
    If the criminal escapes execution, his/her score is retained and further offences increase it towards the next ‘threshold for justice’. As can be seen, habitual criminals will eventually be executed.
    Apart from a few minor details to be worked out, the plan seems fool proof 🙂

  20. There was a report locally that 80% of minor crime is down to a handful of persistent repeat offenders, the police know who they are but the courts won’t do anything.
    The 3 strikes rule in the US may lead to some harsh sentences for minor crimes, but personally I can see why it’s a useful approach. These are offenders you aren’t going to rehabilitate, locking them away is only think that’s going to reduce crime levels.

  21. The 3 strikes rule in the US may lead to some harsh sentences for minor crimes, but personally I can see why it’s a useful approach. These are offenders you aren’t going to rehabilitate, locking them away is only think that’s going to reduce crime levels.

    Because as can be clearly seen, those states in the US implementing 3-Strikes Laws have virtually no crime at all. Including such havens of non-criminal tranquility as…New York.


  22. “… teenagers and young people aged over 18 “may still be in a formative phase of their life … until as late as 25-30 in terms of neurological development)”.

    And they want to give these people the vote!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *