Professor Jose Pina-Sánchez’s impactful research on sentencing is key motivator for House of Commons Justice Committee’s inquiry

Professor Jose Pina-Sánchez's report 'Public Knowledge of Sentencing Practice and Trends' has partly formed the basis of a Justice Committee inquiry 'Public opinion and understanding of sentencing'.

The report, published in 2022, was co-authored with colleages from the Sentencing Academy.

According to the House of Commons Justice Committee's Call for Evidence for their inquiry, public confidence in the criminal justice system is affected by understanding of sentencing. Professor Jose Pina-Sánchez’s report (based on the knowledge and opinions around sentencing of 1,844 respondents) found that there was low public understanding around certain aspects of sentencing, and he and colleagues in the Sentencing Academy believe that this matters, as it ‘can have an influence on sentencing policy’.

Key findings from the report highlighted the importance of clarity and accuracy around sentencing education and reportage. For example, there has been a strong trend towards severity in sentencing, in both lengths of custodial sentences as well as the rate of imprisonment, but this was not reflected in the opinions of the respondents of the survey.

A significant portion of respondents held untrue beliefs, such as: crime rates are higher today than in 1996; that sentences are shorter today; that imprisonment rates for crimes such as burglary are lower than they are; that perpetrators of rape receive sanctions rather than imprisonment (approx. 96% are imprisoned); and that minimum term murder sentences are shorter (instead of the actual 8-year increase since 1996).

These untrue beliefs have strong effects on opinion. The report finds that between 65–76% of respondents (depending on how the results are calculated) believe that sentencing is too lenient.

The stark findings of the report made it one of the key motivators of the Justice Committee inquiry.

Separately, Professor Pina-Sánchez and Sentencing Academy colleagues submitted written evidence to the inquiry (referenced multiple times in the final report as OUS0002).

He says:

For more than two decades, we've observed a correlation between public perceptions of leniency in the courts and a simultaneous rise in the severity of sentences. We're currently investigating whether this correlation implies causation. If, as I suspect, there is indeed a causal relationship, it becomes imperative to explore novel avenues to improve public education on sentencing issues. Additionally, I believe it would be crucial to ensure that both policymakers and sentencers understand the detrimental effects of reacting to public opinion on this matter.

Professor Pina-Sánchez

Professor Pina-Sánchez suggests that agencies engaged in sentencing – including the Ministry of Justice and the Sentencing Council – could mount periodic information sessions for journalists to ensure that the information they need to explain sentencing decisions is readily available. Likewise, it could also be useful to initiate engagement sessions for other key stakeholders such as Parliamentarians.

The inquiry’s final report was launched on 8 November. Listen to Committee chair Sir Bob Neill MP discussing the inquiry findings on BBC R4's Law in Action. Professor Pina-Sánchez attended a roundtable with the Justice Select Committee and the Sentencing Academy in December 2022 as part of the inquiry. Professor Pina-Sánchez’ continued involvement in this inquiry speaks to his dedication to impactful research.

Professor Pina-Sánchez is a member of the School of Law’s Centre for Criminal Justice Studies.

Read more about his current ESRC-funded project: Disproportionality: Exploring the Nature of Ethnic Disparities in Sentencing through Causal Inference

He can also be found on X/Twitter (@JPinaSanchez) and Bluesky (