Irish Penal Reform Trust

Scotland: Public perceptions of sentencing

19th September 2019

The Scottish Sentencing Council have published new research this month by Ipsos MORI Scotland and Professor Cyrus Tata, University of Strathclyde. The research explored public attitudes and levels of knowledge of sentencing options in Scotland by way of a telephone survey with Scottish residents.

53% of respondents self-reported as knowing “little or nothing” about sentences handed down by courts in Scotland. This is consistent with other research internationally that finds the general public possess low levels of knowledge of the criminal justice system. Confidence in the Scottish criminal justice system was high, with 63% of respondents agreeing that the system is “fair to all”. When given a list of various sentencing goals, 50% of respondents chose “protecting the public” as the most important aim of sentencing. 24% chose rehabilitation as the most important and 15% chose punishment as the most important. An overwhelming majority, 90%, agreed with the statement that repeat offenders should receive a tougher sentence than those with no previous convictions. The report concluded that public opinion is complex and varied, and that members of the public support a wide range of sentencing options and goals.

Empirical research into public attitudes towards crime and punishment can be of huge value. Narrowing the gap between what happens, what the public thinks is happening, and what the public believes should be happening, is hugely important for state accountability, legitimacy, and democracy.

You can access the full report here


Read more:

IPRT: Public Attitudes to Prison
UK: Nuffield Foundation Public Opinion and Sentencing for Murder
PRILA: Trinity College Dublin Silence and Punishment Survey

Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.



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