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Measuring Offence Seriousness

NCJ Number
Ian MacKinnell; Patrizia Poletti; Matthew Holmes
Date Published
August 2010
12 pages
This report presents two new measures of offense seriousness in New South Wales (Australia) and compares them to the National Offense Index (NOI), Australia's most recognized offense seriousness index.
One of the new measures of offense seriousness is Median Sentence Ranking (MSR). This was constructed by identifying the median sentence actually imposed in each Australian Standard Offense Classification (ASOC) group. The data used for this purpose consisted of cases concluded in the New South Wales Children's, Local, District, and Supreme Courts between April 3, 2000, and March 31, 2005, in which the offender had no prior criminal record. The second new measure of offense seriousness is Median Statutory Maximum Ranking (MSMR). This was constructed by referring to the median statutory maximum penalty applicable among offenses in each ASOC group. The study concluded that the MSR proved to be superior to both the NOI and MSMR, in its ability to predict a sentence of imprisonment and to predict the principal offense. The MSMR was superior to the NOI in its ability to predict a sentence of imprisonment; however, the NOI was superior to the MSMR in predicting the principal offense. This suggests that the MSR is the best choice when the aim is either to investigate or control the influence of offense seriousness on the likelihood of imprisonment or to identify which of two offenses will incur the more severe sentence. The NOI, which is a relatively robust measure of seriousness, may be useful when alternative measures are not available, cannot be derived, or when the aim is to predict outcomes outside the criminal justice system, where public opinion is a salient factor. 3 tables, 6 notes, 16 references, and appended data used for calculating the MSR and the method for testing each measure's ability to predict the principal offense