Many people think that levels of sentencing are, in general, too low. But where does our knowledge about sentencing come from? Few people claim to be knowledgeable about the usual levels of punishment awarded by courts. Not many people pay all that much attention to the routine business of the courts. Perhaps we (or a family member or a friend) have been the victim of a crime and a court appearance matters to us personally. But often we only think about such things when the papers report sentencing decisions. Someone is often found to comment on how lenient the sentence was. (It is interesting to wonder why it is that excessive sentences are rarely reported in this way. Aren’t there any?) But of course one of the reasons why these cases are reported is just because they are believed to be lenient. ‘Man gets sent to prison for an average sentence’ is no kind of a headline. So maybe we absorb this and, since we only ever hear about (what some people suggest is) leniency, we conclude that the courts are generally too lenient. The information we are receiving is incomplete.
Those who believe in deterrence (the idea that the prospect of a penalty should frighten off people who are about to commit a crime) ought to be troubled about this. What message are the media giving to potential offenders if they keep telling them that the courts are (too) lenient?