A Practical Measure of Offence Seriousness: Sentence Severity

A Practical Measure of Offence Seriousness: Sentence Severity , continued

METHOD

Measures

The independent measure of sentence severity was based on prison sentences imposed by the courts of Ontario, Canada. These were obtained from the sentencing records of the Ontario Ministry of Correctional Services for offenses defined by the Criminal Code of Canada (CCC) and by federal and provincial acts and statutes. The data available for sentences imposed in Ontario were in the form of numbers of offenders, numbers of counts, mean prison sentence lengths imposed per offence count and range of sentence lengths imposed per offence count. Although these data were available for males and females separately in many offence categories, it was decided not to include data on females. Consequently, the independent sentence severity measure is based on male offenders only. In order to minimize the effects of possible fluctuations in sentencing practices, due to temporary notoriety for given kinds of offenses afforded by public media attention to particular cases, it was decided to use sentencing data taken across the most recently available three-year interval. Accordingly, sentencing statistics used in this study covered the fiscal years of 1981-82 through 1983-84. The indicator measure chosen to represent sentence severity was the mean sentence length (days in prison) imposed for each offence category.

The dependent measure used in this study was based on the National Survey of Crime Severity (Wolfgang et al., 1985), which is the most current, inclusive and psychometrically sophisticated measure of offence seriousness currently available. The NSCS is an update and extension of the original Sellin and Wolfgang (1964) study. The NSCS scale consists of 204 crime descriptions as its stimuli and derives its ratings from the ratio judgements of seriousness made by an extended sample of 60,000 Americans residing in the United States. Its reference, therefore is to a national U.S. jurisdiction.

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