Public Opinion

Public Knowledge of Sentencing Practice and Trends

Report (Sentencing Academy)

This report describes findings from a survey of the general public conducted in 2021. The research contributes to the well-established and still growing literature on public opinion and sentencing. Unlike most surveys, however, the primary focus here is upon what the public know about sentencing: the knowledge which underpins their attitudes. Specifically, public estimates of custody rates and average prison sentence lengths were compared to the latest sentencing statistics. In addition, several questions tested respondents’ knowledge of changes in the use of imprisonment over the period 1996-2021. Sentencing practices have become more severe in recent years, as reflected in increases in the use of imprisonment and in average custodial sentence lengths. One aim of the survey was to determine whether the public was aware of this trend.