Reducing prison sentencing through pre-sentence reports? Why the quasi-market logic of 'selling alternatives to custody' fails

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A central aim of successive generations of penal reformers and governments has been to reduce the use of imprisonment in relatively less serious cases. In their various guises, pre-sentence reports (PSRs) have been a key vehicle to promote non-custodial ‘alternatives’ to the judicial sentencer. Yet, after decades of pursuing this strategy, a significant reduction in prison sentencing remains elusive. This article suggests that the failure of this policy strategy is, at least in part, rooted in its quasi-market logic. It tends to construct the judicial sentencer as a metaphorical consumer in a penal marketplace, to whom the report writer must convincingly ‘sell alternatives’ to custody. Applying and developing theories of consumption as a cultural practice, it is proposed that, by its very nature, a consumerist model is bound to fail to deliver penal reduction.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)472-494
Number of pages23
JournalThe Howard Journal of Crime and Justice (formerly The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice)
Issue number4
Early online date20 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2018


  • sentencing
  • alternatives to custody
  • penal reform
  • pre-sentence reports
  • probation
  • community penalties
  • community sanctions
  • consumer society
  • consumerism

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