Selling 'alternatives to prison' to judicial consumers: why the market logic fails

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How should prison sentencing in relatively less serious cases be reduced? Generations of reform-minded government officials, probation managers,
academics and practitioners have tried to reduce the use of prison in relatively less serious cases. Yet these efforts to sell community penalties have not resulted in the desired radical reduction in the use of imprisonment. Indeed, as a society we seem to be using prison more than ever – even for those whose offending in itself does not demand it. Judicial sentencers would use these 'alternatives' if only they could be persuaded to have 'confidence' in them. The solution? Pre-Sentence Reports (in their various guises) are said to provide an invaluable mechanism via which influence can be exerted over sentencing. By 'selling' community penalties more effectively, judicial sentencers will choose to 'buy' them in the case they are about to sentence and as a concept more generally. This article explains how this market-based logic is counter-productive: it tends only to embed the idea of prison as the default. The argues against the conception of buyer and seller in a penal market-place in favour of a new set of professional relationships.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages4
Specialist publicationProbation Quarterly
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2019


  • probation
  • sentencing
  • penal policy
  • alternatives to custody
  • community penalties
  • imprisonment
  • sentencing reform
  • consumer society


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