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Talking About Sentences and Crime: The Views of People on Periodic Detention

NCJ Number
Wendy Searle; Trish Knaggs; Kiri Simonsen
Date Published
July 2003
180 pages
This document discusses the views of a cross section of offenders that were serving sentences of periodic detention in early 2000.
The importance of understanding offenders’ attitudes to and experiences of sentences is that it tests assumptions that criminal justice policy makes about the punitive nature of those sentences, and their likely deterrent effect and rehabilitative potential. Periodic detention is a community-based sentence that can be imposed on any offender that is convicted of an offense punishable by imprisonment. It can be imposed for a period not exceeding 12 months. The sentence involves an offender reporting to a periodic detention work center at least once a week and undertaking supervised community work. It enables an offender to continue employment or to continue to search for employment. It was a frequently used sentence with 18,436 offenders receiving periodic detention in 2000. Offenders from five periodic detention centers were asked their views about how severe they thought particular sentences were, what purposes sentences might serve, what were appropriate sentences in particular cases, and whether in their own experience sentences of periodic detention and fines were fair. Their knowledge of the crime rate and some aspects of sentencing practices was also surveyed. The results show that in the view of the detainees, prison sentences were the toughest sentences although a significant minority indicated they would prefer to serve a custodial sentence of 3 months than receive either a fine of $1,000 or a sentence of 12 months periodic detention. This minority preference was particularly found in those that had previously spent time in prison. Imprisonment was the sentence considered most likely to have a deterrent effect and was also perceived as having the greatest rehabilitative effect. Detainees said that fines were the sentences that were least likely to stop them from reoffending and were viewed as least likely to rehabilitate. Results also show widespread misinformation about crime and sentencing. The majority of detainees thought that the crime rate was increasing rather than decreasing, and tended to underestimate lengths of sentences. 44 tables, 33 figures, 10 appendices, 37 references