You’re a conservative government that wants to build more prisons. You know that all the research on sentencing – the detailed studies undertaken by the Victorian Sentencing Advisory Council – show that, contrary to the impression given by the tabloid media, when informed of all the facts in a case, Victorians prefer lower sentences than actually imposed by Judges.
What do you do?
You commission a one-sided survey with highly misleading questions, designed to get the answers you want. You put up scenarios that do not include any mitigating factors (but several aggravating factors), you leave respondents to guess as to whether the person has similar priors or not (as if it’s not highly relevant to sentencing), you do not give any context in terms of what will be likely to reduce reoffending, you give the maximum sentence available under the law but not the current average for that offence, and you give no context in terms of recidivism rates under the various sentencing options (corrections orders vs jail).
And then, because with those massive distorting factors, that survey will inevitably give results that wrongly indicate that current sentences are less than the public would (when informed of the facts of a case) really want to impose, you clod around in parliament increasing sentences and adding mandatory minimums and removing sentencing options and, in general, prejudging cases in advance – and, well, benefit in whatever way that helps you. Pleasing the Herald Sun, pleasing donors who build and run prisons, looking like you’re doing something about crime (that will, conveniently, probably get worse as you train minor offenders in prison to be more serious offenders, thereby prompting the building of more prisons, ad infinitum), enjoying the satisfaction of putting poor people behind bars. I don’t know – I’ve never quite grasped why locking someone up is such a vicious pleasure for people not motivated wholly by revenge.
The problem: people when fully informed did not follow the tabloid “we want tougher sentences” script.
The solution: take out the “being fully informed” bit, trick citizens into thinking they support tougher sentences than they actually do.
The result: more people in prison for longer – huge increase in public expenditure on prisons; significant increase in crime; more lives ruined.
That’s what the Liberals mean when they talk about “law and order”.
They might as well just do sentencing by Herald Sun voteline poll. Oh, hell, I’ve just given them an idea.