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Evaluating the contribution of sentencing to social justice: Some conceptual problems.

Henham, Ralph
June 4, 2015

Source: (2012) International Criminal Law Review. 12: 361–373

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. (author’s abstract)


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