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

Tata, Cyrus (2018) Reducing prison sentencing through pre-sentence reports? Why the quasi-market logic of 'selling alternatives to custody' fails. The Howard Journal of Crime and Justice (formerly The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice), 57 (4). pp. 472-494. ISSN 1468-2311

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    Abstract

    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.