Sentencing across the world

This study compares sentencing policies across the world. It is the fourth publication in a series by the Institute for Crime and Justice Policy Research (ICPR), which looks to understand how different countries use the prison system. The ICPR have focused on ten jurisdictions: Kenya, South Africa, Brazil, New York State in the US, India, Thailand, England and Wales, Hungary, the Netherlands and New South Wales in Australia.

For this paper, the researchers compare the likely sentences that would be given for three hypothetical crimes:

  • A domestic burglary committed by a man with previous convictions for similar offences.
  • Drug importation of heroin or cocaine by a woman from a less developed country.
  • Intentional homicide of one young man by another, involving a knife.

After analysing each jurisdiction’s laws and conducting interviews with practitioners from each area, the researchers outline the likely outcome for the perpetrator in each scenario. Likely sentence outcomes for the burglary ranged from a potential 7-year sentence in Kenya to a 3 to 5-month sentence in the Netherlands. In India, drug importation could carry a 20-year prison sentence and a fine, compared to a 3.5 to 5-year sentence in England and Wales. For murder, half of the jurisdictions would likely sentence the perpetrator to life imprisonment. Elsewhere, sentences were likely to be at least 10 years; except in the Netherlands, where mental health conditions are taken into consideration.

The researchers made a number of policy recommendations for each offence considered during the study, ultimately designed to reduce the overall prison population. For example, the researchers recommend avoiding mandatory life sentences for murder and other offences. Instead, they argue that judges should be able to impose a fixed term sentence of “proportionate length”.

Read the full article: Catherine Heard and Jessica Jacobson, Sentencing Burglary, Drug Importation and Murder; Evidence from Ten Countries, Institute for Crime and Justice Policy Research, January 2021

Poverty in the UK

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation conducts a report into UK poverty each year. This year’s report uses poverty data from April 2018 to March 2019, before the current coronavirus pandemic. However, the researchers also looked at more recent opinion polls and conducted their own interviews with people with first-hand experience of poverty as part of its Grassroots Poverty Action Group (GPAG). The report therefore offers some early indications of the impact of the pandemic on poverty in the UK and includes sections on working poverty, social security, and housing.

The report states that the pandemic’s effect on poverty is “uncertain”. The researchers believe that, at the beginning of the pandemic, relative poverty may have fallen due to the decrease in average incomes and a temporary increase in government benefits for people. However, they argue that “any reduction in relative poverty is likely to be reversed over the next few months and years”, as the Government has started to gradually reduce the amount of support in the labour market and benefit system.

Overall, the report calls for the Government to remain “bold and compassionate” in its policies on work, benefits and housing. The researchers recommend:

  • Investment in skills and retraining to create good quality new jobs.
  • Improving earnings for low-income working families.
  • Strengthening the benefits system, including making the £20 per week increase to universal credit and working tax credit permanent.
  • Increasing the amount of low-cost housing.

Read the full article: Joseph Rowntree Foundation, UK Poverty 2020/21, January 2021

Public services online

This article from Reform, a think tank specialising in public service reform, considers how public service bodies currently use digital infrastructure. The researchers argue that the coronavirus pandemic brought to light the disparity in public bodies’ ability to conduct online services, as necessitated by the national lockdowns. For example, they state that some Government departments, such as the Department for Work and Pensions or HM Revenue and Customs, were able to respond to a huge surge in demand quickly and effectively. On the other hand, they say that the lack of digital infrastructure in the NHS meant that it was difficult to ascertain the number of ventilators across the country at the outbreak of coronavirus.

The researchers use many examples from different areas of the public sector to highlight “the patchy nature” of its digital infrastructure. They argue that organisations that had previously invested in digital transformation fared better during the pandemic, and that this should act as a catalyst for change.

The researchers conclude with three recommendations for the Government to consider:

  • The introduction of a cross-government digital skills strategy.
  • A renewed focus on moving away from legacy IT systems, supported by a cross-government legacy IT fund.
  • Current spending strategies for technology should be reviewed to ensure spending on capital (ie physical equipment or software) is not incentivised over spending on services (for example, the cloud).

Read the full article: Matthew Fetzer and Eleonora Harwich, Digital public services: what’s next?, Reform, January 2021