Why does society punish
• Retribution
• Reform
• Deterrence
Today’s session
You are learning to...
Judicial sanctions for
offending (imprisonment &
non-custodial sentencing)
Use research to evaluate
judicial sanctions
Use psychological principles
to explain effects on
Distinguish between
psychological and commonsense explanations of
You are learning about...
• Has our society ‘gone soft’ on crime?
Source: Morgan (2002)
Prison population in England & Wales
Prison population in England & Wales
• There are 140 people in prison per 100,000
population in E & W.
– 50% higher than France, Germany & Italy
– Double rate of most Scandinavian countries
– Substantially lower than US (700+/100,000)
– Doubled since 1991
– Length of sentence has also been increasing
• The prison population has grown steadily
since 1946
Purposes of prison
• Morgan (2002) lists three purposes:
– Custody
– Coercion
– Punishment
– Recidivism = return to criminal activities following
judicial punishment
– Recidivism rate is a measure of the effectiveness
of punishment
• Only the punishment function interests us.
• In 1993, the Home Secretary Michael Howard
insisted, ‘prison works’. Was he right?
• Common sense would suggest that prison
should reduce future offending. So why
doesn’t it?
Why doesn’t prison work?
• Offending is not always a rational choice
• Prison does not adhere to known principles of
learning. Punishment should be:
• How might imprisonment fail to meet these
– Probable
– Prompt
– Aversive
• Probable
– Many crimes are never solved, so punishment unlikely
• Prompt
– Long delay between offending and eventual
– Not necessarily, given circumstances of many
• Do offenders learn not to offend or not to get
• Aversive
• Hollin (1992) suggests that, in the face of the
failure of imprisonment to reform offenders,
we have a choice between making prisons
even more unpleasant and rethinking the
whole idea. Which do you favour and why?
Non-custodial sentencing
– Admonishment (e.g. police caution)
– Fines
– Probation (community rehabilitation order)
– Reparation & restitution (e.g. community
punishment order)
• How, besides imprisonment, does our judicial
system respond to offenders?
• In your groups:
– Consider the possible advantages and
disadvantages of the sentence you are assigned,
relative to imprisonment
– Think about: (1) potential to reform the offender;
(2) additional effects on the offender/society; (3)
economic implications
• Walker & Farrington (1981): lower recidivism
than probation or suspended prison sentence
• Feldman (1993) lower reconvictions than the
alternatives for first offences
• Oldfield (1996): prison – 63% recidivism;
probation – 41% recidivism
• Roshier (1995): prison 64%; probation 41%
Reparation & restitution
• Schneider (1986): restitution marginally more
effective than alternatives, but depends on
programme and community
• Offenders take little account of judicial
sanctions when weighing up costs and
benefits of offending (McDonald, 1989)
• Offenders are not randomly assigned to
sentences; differences in recidivism may be
due to judicial risk assessment
• In terms of recidivism, non-custodial
sentences are no worse than imprisonment
and can be much better
General issues

Why does society punish offenders?