The Federation Press

Penal Populism, Sentencing Councils and Sentencing Policy


With particular emphasis on the emerging role of sentencing commissions, advisory councils or panels in a number of English speaking countries, this book brings together the theoretical perspectives on the role of the public in the development of sentencing policy.

Freiberg and Gelb expand and develop the existing literature that looks at public attitudes to justice and the role that the “public” can play in influencing policy. It asks the critical questions: even if “public opinion”, or preferably, “public judgment” can be ascertained in relation to a particular sentencing issue, should it be relevant to court decision-making, to institutional decision-making and to the political process? And if so, how?

For the first time, descriptions and analyses of new and proposed sentencing advisory bodies in Australia, New Zealand, the United States, the United Kingdom, Scotland and South Africa are outlined and provided. Further, it adds to the knowledge in the field of public opinion by presenting practical examples of ways in which the public has a role in sentencing — illustrating the implementation of recommendations that have been made in existing research over the past few years. These recommendations have focussed on ways to improve public knowledge about the criminal justice system in order to counter political platforms and public outcries that are based on misinformation and misconceptions about the criminal justice system and in particular, about the nature of current sentencing practice.

The book is structured in two parts. Part 1 deals with general matters relating to public opinion: our knowledge of what it is or purports to be, and how that influences or shapes sentencing policy. Part 2 deals with the development, and nature of, sentencing councils and their roles vis a vis the public, government and courts.


Penal Populism analyses a wealth of timely, thought-provoking and trend-setting studies which are essential to gaining a full understanding of this important issue in contemporary criminology. (See full review in Supplement below.) - The Hon Mr Justice Gilles Renaud, Ontario Court of Justice, Cornwall, Ontario

This fascinating analysis of the sentencing advisory groups discloses their directives and personnel, their successes and failures and their support from the judiciary and governments. ...
Their similarity of purpose is the ‘balance the various interests of the judiciary, the public politicians - and the media’ and to carefully create ‘fair and thoughtful’ sentencing policies. - Victims’ Voice, September 2008

Table of Contents

Penal populism: sentencing councils and sentencing policy
Arie Freiberg and Karen Gelb

Sentencing policy and practice: the evolving role of public opinion
Julian V Roberts

Penal scandal in New Zealand
John Pratt

Dealing the public in: challenges for a transparent and accountable sentencing policy
David Indermaur

Myths and misconceptions: public opinion versus public judgment about sentencing
Karen Gelb

The Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines
Richard S Frase

The United States Sentencing Commission
Judge Nancy Gertner

English sentencing guidelines in their public and political context
Andrew Ashworth

The New South Wales Sentencing Council
The Hon Alan Abadee AM RFD QC

The Sentencing Commission for Scotland
Neil Hutton

The Victorian Sentencing Advisory Council: incorporating community views into the sentencing process
Arie Freiberg

A perspective on the work of the Victorian Sentencing Advisory Council and its potential to promote respect and equality for women
Thérèse McCarthy

Sentencing reform in New Zealand: a proposal to establish a sentencing council
Warren Young

A sentencing council in South Africa
Stephan Terblanche

A federal sentencing council for Australia
Australian Law Reform Commission

Institutional mechanisms for incorporating the public
Neil Hutton

Does it matter? Reflections on the effectiveness of institutionalised public participation in the development of sentencing policy
Rob Allen and Mike Hough

Of interest...