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Evaluating the Contribution of Sentencing to Social Justice: Some Conceptual Problems

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The sentencing practices of the courts are significant in promoting social welfare and the cohesion of communities. More particularly, the social morality which underpins punishment and its expression through sentencing is a crucial factor in balancing the interests of citizen and state. Consequently, penal policymakers face an increasingly difficult task ensuring that the rationales for punishment and sentencing decisions engage with the values, expectations and sensibilities of our increasingly diverse and morally pluralistic societies. Establishing meaningful connections between penal ideology and criminal justice outcomes is a key factor in integrating restorative justice theory and practice and in maximising the potential for trial justice to contribute constructively to transitional justice objectives. The ability to provide convincing evaluations of current and future practice is a significant precursor to this endeavour. This article analyses examples from domestic and international contexts to highlight issues surrounding sentence evaluation, drawing particular attention to the conceptual problems posed by the normative nature of sentencing. It then considers the difficulties of establishing clear parameters and methods for evaluation, and how to reconcile conflicting normative demands within a developing framework of penal accountability.

Affiliations: 1: Professor of Criminal Justice, Nottingham Law School, Nottingham Trent University, UK


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