What Does the Public Really Think About Sentencing?

Date of Publication
13 December 2018

A topic that regularly attracts media attention is how courts sentence people convicted of crimes. The prevailing perception is that judges are ‘soft on crime’ and ‘out of touch’ with the community.

That perception is usually the product of sensationalised media coverage of particular cases, as well as top-of-the-head opinion polls.

The question is: Would informed members of the community, aware of all the facts in a case and not just those published in the media, sentence offenders any differently to courts?

To answer that question, a number of Australian researchers have conducted separate studies over the last decade about what the Australian public thinks about sentencing.

The Sentencing Advisory Council has produced a research overview of those studies, summarising their aims, methodologies and key findings.

The studies all reached the same conclusion: when given all the facts of a case, informed members of the community are not as punitive as opinion polls suggest. Not only that, but most people imposed a sentence that was more lenient than what the judge had imposed, and even more people thought that the judge’s sentence was appropriate.

Together, these studies overwhelmingly suggest that judges are neither soft on crime nor out of touch with the community.

You can access the research overview on our website.