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NCJ Number: 77480 Find in a Library
Title: Suspended Sentence in England, 1967-1978
Journal: British Journal of Criminology  Volume:21  Issue:1  Dated:(January 1981)  Pages:1-26
Author(s): A E Bottoms
Date Published: 1981
Page Count: 26
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United Kingdom
Annotation: The use of the suspended sentence in England and Wales from 1967-78 is reviewed, and its place in the English penal system is assessed.
Abstract: The suspended sentence was introduced into English law by the Criminal Justice Act of 1967 and became available as a measure for the courts on January 1, 1968. It now holds a major position in the English penal system. In 1978, over 35,000 defendants received suspended sentences. Such sentences were imposed more than twice as often as probation for adult male offenders. Although suspended sentences were advocated both as deterrent measures and as a means of avoiding imprisonment, only the second rationale has been accepted with respect to the 1967 legislation. Strong inferential evidence indicates, however, that the courts have been using the suspended sentence not only in place of imprisonment but also where they would previously have imposed fines or probation. Evidence also indicates that Magistrates' courts began to impose longer sentences in cases where they suspended the sentence than they did in cases in which they actually imposed imprisonment. These results should not have occurred if the courts had applied the 1968 O'Keefe decision, which required that sentencing courts first consider and dismiss all noncustodial penalties as inappropriate, then decide and fix a sentence length, and finally consider whether suspension would be appropriate. These results point to the failure of the original legislative intent. In 1972, the requirement that virtually all imprisonment sentences of 6 months or less be suspended was abolished. Despite a predicted increase in the prison population, the prison population decreased, in part because of other provisions in the 1972 law. Examination of criticisms of the suspended sentence, as applied in England, shows that it is open to attack on the theoretical level both from the neoclassical position and because related measures exist. It also faces criticism from those who view it as an insufficient penalty. On a practical level, its effectiveness in reducing the prison population is questionable on several grounds. For example, the greater length of suspended sentences than sentences to immediate imprisonment suggests that some offenders are serving longer terms than they would if the suspended sentence did not exist, given that some who receive suspended sentences eventually go to prison. Although the suspended sentence seems to be widely accepted, the case for its abolition should be seriously considered. Tables, footnotes, and 30 references are provided.
Index Term(s): England; Evaluation; Judicial discretion; Laws and Statutes; Suspended sentences; Wales
Note: Shortened version of a monograph published by the University of Leeds, England, 1980, and is based on a paper originally delivered at the annual Frank Dawtry Memorial Seminar held in that University.
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