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A Review of Sentencing Decisions made by Courts, Identifying why Young People are Sentenced to Custody or Community Sentences

Background

The Youth Justice Board has commissioned the Policy Research Bureau, working together with Nacro, to undertake this review of sentencing decisions made by courts. At least in some areas, it appears that some children are sentenced to custody who might have received a different sentence in other areas. In order to ensure equity within the system, and to ensure that children who offend receive the most appropriate and effective penalties, we need to understand better the mechanisms and influences that drive decision making when dealing with persistent young offenders.

Issues relating to sentences for persistent young offenders, and particularly to custody and its alternatives, are of central interest to PRB and to Nacro's Youth Crime Section. Both partners have undertaken a series of studies in this area and are considered experts. This study will run for nine months and build upon existing research, looking at more detail as a series of actual cases, exploring the issues impacting on decision-making at an individual rather than general level.

What does the research focus on?

The research aims will be clearly focused upon addressing the following four main issues:

(a) Determining the reasons why custodial/community sentences have been given
(b) Understanding the differences between sentences made by magistrates and district judges
(c) Establishing the views of sentencers on making custodial/ community sentences
(d) Undertaking a review and analysis of sentences of cases that go to Crown Court.

What does the research involve?

The overall approach of this study will involve a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods. These data collection methods will be employed in sixteen youth courts areas. In brief, the quantitative component will involve collecting and recording systematic information on 96-128 individual cases (drawn from across the sixteen youth court areas) where sentencing decisions were made. These data will be complimented by a series of semi-structured case-focused interviews with Magistrates and Crown Court judges. The schedule to be designed for these interviews would aim to uncover the extent to which various factors influenced sentencers when making decisions about specific cases, including the elements that might have tipped the case one way or another, and what would have led to a different outcome. This will enable us to unravel local and personal influences on decision-making in much more detail than has previously been possible.

Timescale and final product of the research

The research was completed in 2006. A publication will be available in 2007.

Last updated March 2007