Severe sentences no deterrence, say criminologists

July 31, 2003

Harsher sentences do not deter people from committing crimes, says a new report by University of Toronto criminologists.

One of the objectives of sentencing under the Canadian Criminal Code is to attempt to deter people from committing crimes, says U of T professor Anthony Doob, who authored the report, Sentence Severity and Crime: Accepting the Null Hypothesis. "The implication of the law is that harsher sentences will make us safe but our research findings suggest this isn't true."

Doob and post-doctoral fellow Cheryl Webster examined literature and studies on the deterrent impact of sentences in the U.S., Canada, England and Australia over the past 30 years. They found that the majority of studies suggest harsher sentences do not reduce crime. "It's not the penalty that causes people to pause before they commit a crime; it's the likelihood of being apprehended," says Doob.

Instead of using harsher crimes to discourage people from breaking the law, he says more resources are needed for social and educational programs for children and youth at various stages in their lives. "Programs that help kids to thrive in school are good educational investments but they're also good crime prevention investments."
Their report will appear in Crime and Justice: A Review of Research, a book to be released in August by the University of Chicago Press. The report was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and Legal Aid Ontario.

Professor Anthony Doob, Centre for Criminology, 416-978-6438 x 230,
Sue Toye, U of T public affairs, 416-978-4289,

University of Toronto

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