This paper reports on studies of Germany's sentencing practices, with attention to the use of alternative sanctions.
Studies conducted by the Criminological Research Institute of Lower Saxony explored individual and regional disparities in sentencing and sought to determine the effects of sentencing practices on offending patterns and career criminality. Findings from these studies suggest that when youths are imprisoned for offenses, they are more likely to later embrace criminality than are youth given alternative sanctions. Judges, therefore, began to avoid giving prison sentences to the extent possible. Another study reviewed some 2,000 case dispositions, assigning the judges in the cases to one of two groups: "authoritarian" judges and "liberal" judges deemed more communicative, more positive in their expectations of offenders, and milder in their sentencing approach. Social workers who were responsible for monitoring community service sentences were similarly categorized. The rates at which offenders disobeyed judicial orders were analyzed according to the type of judge and social worker involved in their cases. In cases in which both the judge and social worker were liberal, offender disobedience was 6.5 percent; in cases in which the judge was liberal and the social worker was authoritarian, offender disobedience was 11.3 percent; in cases in which the judge was authoritarian and the social worker was liberal, offender disobedience was 14.4 percent; and in cases in which both the judge and the social worker were authoritarian, offender disobedience was 27.3 percent. Subsequent widespread dissemination and publication of these research results effected change in Germany's sentencing policies and practices.
Date Published: February 1, 1996
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