Comparative Perspectives on
Sentencing Policy and Research
RICHARD S. FRASE
The chapters in this volume add to a rapidly growing English-language literature on sentencing laws and practices in Western countries and provide a rich source of data on the variety of approaches to common issues of sentencing policy faced by almost all modern nations. Although most of this literature is less than ten years old, it also provides instructive historical perspectives, revealing major changes that have occurred in several jurisdictions in just a few years. 1
This chapter seeks to identify common issues and themes in Western sentencing and to emphasize some of the important similarities and differences in these systems. The common features include not only broadly similar sentencing purposes, procedures, and alternatives but also similar recent trends (e.g., toward increased severity, particularly for violent, sex, and drug offenders). These growing similarities make the remaining differences (e.g., limitations on sentencing discretion and severity; use of noncustodial sentencing alternatives) all the more interesting from the perspectives of research and law reform—international legal “transplants” are becoming increasingly viable, as potential “donor” and “recipient” systems become more compatible. Unfortunately, increasing similarity between sentencing systems makes it easier for bad practices to migrate across national boundaries; however, comparative research is also valuable for what it tells us not to do about crime and sentencing (chap. 1, this volume).
The chapter concludes with an assessment of the most important challenges confronting scholars of comparative sentencing, in the years ahead, in four key areas: developing a stronger international consensus on sentencing principles (especially limiting principles), expanding constitutional and international human rights limitations on sentencing, developing a true “comparative law of sentencing” (exploring why nations do or do not differ and “borrow” from one another), and improving the quality and comparability of data on sentencing and crime in Western countries.