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Table 5.2 Sanctions against known offenders, 1990 (1) and perceptions of likely sentence

Known

Known

Offenders'

offenders (i)

offenders (ii)

perceptions

Cautioned

24

31

Conditional discharge

9

11

Fine (2)

16

20

Probation

8

10

Community Service Order

7

9

10

Custodial Sentence

9

II

46

Other sanctions

5

Otherwise dealt with (3)

22

15 4

25

Total

100

8

100

100

Notes:

  • (i)

    Including those taken to court but not convicted.

  • (ii)

    Excluding those taken to court but not convicted.

    • 1.

      Based on numbers cautioned and dealt with in court for both the triable either way offence of theft of a motor vehicle, and the summary offence of 'unaulhorised taking of a conveyance'.

    • 2.

      This covers those who responded 'fine and driving ban'. Most offenders mentioning a fine also mentioned a driving ban.

    • 3.

      An appreciable number of offenders whose case got to a magistrates' court had proceedings discontinued, were discharged, or had the charge withdrawn (31 °/o all told). Similarly, of those whose case was heard in the Crown Court, some 9% were not given any of the sentences mentioned, mainly because they were acquitted.

sentences, for though the current sample were probably basing their judge- ments on their own experiences or those of friends, the evidence nonetheless suggests that offenders persist in stealing cars despite believing that the sanctions awaiting them if caught will be a good deal more serious than current judicial practice suggests will actually be the case.

Though numbers are limited when different age groups are considered, the indications are that younger offenders (aged 14-16) were the most prone to underestimate the likelihood of being cautioned if apprehended, and most likely to exaggerate the risk of a custodial sentence (Table 5.3). Those 17 or older appeared realistic in their judgements about the likelihood of being cautioned, although they were still more pessimistic about a custodial penalty than might be warranted—if not to as great a degree as young teenagers.

As mentioned, the most notable fact was the gross overestimation of custody, particularly among those in the youngest age group. This challenges the view that most offenders think that even if caught they will 'get away with it'.

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Kno wn offenders

Kno wn offenders

Offenders' perceptions

54 2 32 12

61 2

33 44

37

9 8 59 24

12 11 77

14 41

4 17 44 35

6 26 68

6 53

Table 5.3 Sanctions against known offenders, 1990 (1) and perceptions of likely sentence,

by age (2)

AGE 14-16 Cautioned Custodial Sentence Other sanctions Otherwise dealt with (3)

AGE 17-20 Caul ioned Custodial Sentence Other .sanctions Otherwise dealt wilh (3)

AGE21 + (4) Cautioned Custodial Sentence Other sanctions Otherwise deal! with (3)

Notes:

  • 1.

    See footnote 1 to Table 5.2.

  • 2.

    Based on responses from nine 14-16 year olds, twenty-two 17-20 year olds, and seventeen aged 21 or older.

  • 3.

    See footnote 3 to Table 5.2.

  • 4.

    Actual penalties based on all those aged 21 or older, compared to offenders in the current sample, the oldest of whom was 35.

Deterrent effect of sentences

As to whether expected penalties deterred, those which aimed to punish—fines, driving bans and custody—rated more highly than penalties with other aims. However, disqualification from driving and the imposition of penalty points are, as Spencer (forthcoming) points out:

designed to be effective when the offender is old enough to obtain a legal driving licence—they do not mean much to the youths who had been given them.

Further, long periods of disqualification can have an adverse effect on a person's ability 'to go straight' when older, removing the opportunity to drive legitimately.

A number of people (15) said that the threat of custody had been enough to stop their offending, but of the 14 who had actually served one or more custodial sentences only one said that it had stopped him offending. The threat rather

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