A Practical Measure of Offence Seriousness: Sentence Severity

A Practical Measure of Offence Seriousness: Sentence Severity , continued

The Recidivism Outcome Index (Moberg & Ericson, 1972) is a scale of offence seriousness in which seriousness is evaluated using offender disposition at follow-up. The measures of seriousness range from no recidivism (0) to re-imprisonment for felony (10). The Canadian Recidivism Index (Gendreau & Leipciger, 1978) modifies this scale, reducing its eleven categories of disposition to eight. Only the most serious offence is scored, so that its seriousness scores ignore both the quantity of crime and variations in the criminal acts. Since these scales do not provide a continuous base of measurement, they qualify at best as ordinal scales.

The Law Encounter Severity Scale (Witherspoon, et al., 1973) also uses offender disposition as its source of seriousness data. This 39-point scale classifies and ranks follow-up events into five main categories: (a) no law encounter; (b) picked up and released, convicted of misdemeanours; (c) fugitive, absconded or technical violation of parole; (d) convicted and sentenced to less than one year; and (e) convicted and sentenced to more than one year. A dollar figure is affixed to each category to represent the cost of criminal justice processing of the category. The total seriousness score is obtained by multiplying the number of offenses in each category by the cost of that category. Seriousness of offence is thus conceived in terms of society’s costs for detection, arrest, detention, trial and imprisonment. This approach points the way to an interesting and economically meaningful measure of seriousness, and provides a continuous base for measurement in dollar costs associated with offenses. As it stands, however, the two sentenced categories are too broad and represent wide variations in cost figures. Discrimination is also limited by failing to take into account the differential nature of the offenses involved.

The Program Rehabilitation Index (Keller & Carlson, 1977) compares the average rated seriousness of the most serious follow-up offence with the average rated seriousness of the most serious original offence. Offenses are classified from 53 offenses identified by their legal labels, and these offenses are rank ordered into 20 categories of seriousness obtained from a study by Gottfredson (1965). Details were not readily available about the scale’s development or its psychometric properties. The underlying scale, however, is clearly ordinal in nature, so that the total score for a plurality of recidivistic events cannot properly be obtained by summing seriousness ratings. Moreover, this scale is expressly limited to consideration of the most serious criminal event and thus ignores relevant additional information.

The Offence Seriousness Index developed by Sellin and Wolfgang (1964) adopted a novel approach to the measurement of seriousness, both conceptually and methodologically. Crime seriousness is viewed in terms of the degree of harmful social consequences of components of criminal acts defined in crime descriptions. Eleven scale items were derived: (a) four levels of injury, (b) forcible sex acts, (c) two levels of intimidation, (d) premises forcibly entered, (e) two levels of motor vehicles stolen, and (f) property theft/damage. The total seriousness score is the sum of the seriousness values of each scorable component of the criminal event.

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