A Computer System to Assist in
Sentencing Convicted Offenders
David I. Bainbridge
Magistrates have a bewildering range of sentences from which to select. The main sentences available in the English criminal courts are included in its computer system, and some are self-explanatory such as a fine or probation. However, a brief description of the other options might be helpful. A discharge imposes no punishment on the offender beyond the conviction itself. It may be absolute or conditional upon the offender committing no further offense for a specified period of time. A supervision order is the equivalent of a probation order and can be imposed on offenders who are too young for probation, that is, under seventeen years of age. A community service order requires the offender to perform unpaid work in the community up to a maximum of 240 hours. An attendance center order requires that the offender attend for a number of hours at an attendance center, which provides a disciplined environment designed to encourage the offender to make more constructive use of his or her leisure time. Custodial sentences that can be imposed on offenders under the age of twentyone years are detention center orders, for up to four months, and youth custody.1 Finally, adult custodial sentences can be suspended in full or in part.
Sentencing as a practice comes under a tremendous amount of criticism on the grounds of disparity. Early studies emphatically drew attention to the problem,2and a Home Office study concluded that, even after controlling for differences in ages, offenses, and criminal histories, considerable disparities in sentencing practice remained.3 A survey by the National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO) showed that there were wide discrepancies in custodial sentencing between magistrates' courts in towns and cities with similar socioeconomic features. For example, 33 percent of persons committing indictable