6 January 2021

The Sentencing Academy has published a new report by Dr Melissa Hamilton (Reader in Law and Criminal Justice, School of Law, University of Surrey) examining the research findings on the effectiveness, particularly in terms of reducing re-offending, of three key sentencing disposals: immediate imprisonment, suspended sentence orders and community orders.

Read the full report here:

Executive Summary:

• Reducing re-offending is one of five key sentencing objectives in England and Wales. Courts employ a range of sentences, from discharges to imprisonment. This paper summarises findings from the latest research exploring the relative effectiveness of the principal sanctions for more serious offending: immediate imprisonment, suspended sentence orders and community orders.

• In recent years, researchers have evaluated the relative effectiveness of these different sanctions by comparing the re-offending rates of those who have served a sentence of immediate imprisonment to those who served instead a community order or suspended sentence order.

• Comparing re-offending rates associated with different sanctions is challenging because high risk offenders are more likely to be sentenced to custody. This may explain why short sentences of imprisonment are associated with higher re-offending rates than community orders and suspended sentence orders.

• Recent research by the Ministry of Justice and other agencies compared re-offending rates for immediate imprisonment, suspended sentence orders and community orders, having first controlled for other explanatory factors. Re-offending rates for offenders sentenced to short terms of immediate imprisonment were higher than rates for offenders sentenced to either a community order or a suspended sentence order. Re-offending rates for offenders sentenced to community orders are typically higher than those given suspended sentence orders.

• It is too early to know whether the introduction of supervision upon release for short-term custodial sentences has been effective in reducing re-offending because of additional changes implemented around the same time.

• More research is needed to determine whether the type of sentence is related to re-offending rates by gender and ethnicity and to determine how different sentences meet the criminogenic needs of offenders and how they improve their lives more generally.

• Research should use longer follow-up periods to better evaluate the impact of sentences on long-term desistance.