On the surface these measures seem adequate to deter future and repeat offenders, ensure the safety of the public and to allay the fears of the populace. However a deeper study of the issue reveals there is little scientific evidence to support the perceived effectiveness of these measures. In fact harsher sentences and more stringent parole requirements tend to defeat the very purposes they are supposed to serve. Thus a critical evaluation of sentencing and post - sentence supervision as measures to control dangerous offenders helps provide a comprehensive analysis of their use and the detrimental effects they are likely to have in the criminological process.
Initially the acute need for sentencing and post - sentence supervision was felt following the occurrence of certain horrific crimes like the James Bulger, Sarah Payne cases and similar killings. These terrible crimes sent shockwaves rippling through the nation and led to a huge outcry from the impassioned populace. The media played its part in fuelling public outrage and there was a clamour for severe punishments to be handed out to the perpetrators of such heinous crimes. In the aftermath of these killings, the political climate favoured the inclusion of legal provisions to control dangerous offenders by the use of longer sentences and supervision. Such steps served as an opiate to public passions. Unfortunately these measures have not been implemented on the basis of sound scientific study, rather as Tonry points out they reflect a "reduced tolerance of risks in 'late modern society', punitive public attitudes and the cynicism of a political class that chooses to pander to public fears and primitive passions".2
Another reason for the employment of stricter sentencing and supervision was the belief that it would carry out some of the aims of the criminal justice system. For instance it was believed that sentencing and supervision by means of parole officers would serve as a method of crime prevention. It would serve a dual purpose of dealing harshly with dangerous offenders while reducing the risk of reoffending. Theoretically this premise appears to be sound, unfortunately as Ashworth puts it, " it does not follow from any of this that increases in sentence levels will bring about increases in general crime prevention". 3
Dangerous Offenders and the Law
Measures for controlling dangerous offenders are outlined under the Criminal Justice Act 2003. When convicted of a 'serious offence', the offender may be condemned to life imprisonment, imprisonment for public protection or extended sentences. Serious offences refer to specified crimes (mentioned under this law) that are usually violent or sexual in nature. Life sentences are imposed on murderers and offenders who have already been convicted for a serious offence. In the words of Hungerford - Welch, "Under s 225(2), if the offence is punishable with life imprisonment and the court considers that the seriousness of the offence (or of the offence and one or more offences associated with it) is such as to justify the imposition of a sentence of imprisonment for life, then the court must impose a life sentence". 4
If the gravity of the crime is