The unbearable lightness of imposing suspended sentence

Prison Suspended sentence

Whenever I find myself overpowered by qualitative explorations, I viscerally rush to look into whatever quantitative data I have at my fingertips. As the Polish Ministry of Justice published last year a set of very insightful statistics, I have decided to look into the imprisonment rate in Poland from 1946 to 2014. Two things stand out in my brief analysis. Firstly, number of custodial sentences imposed between 2002 and 2012 was higher than in the peak communist years (1958-1962). It is striking because a lot has been said about Polish punitiveness under the communist rule, and such punitiveness was indicated inter alia by the incarceration rate. Nevertheless, the very high post-1989 imprisonment rate points out another punitive reality (2002-2012), however this punitiveness must have its own set of shaping factors. Secondly, data suggest that in the Polish context there is a particular eagerness to impose suspended sentence. The overwhelming majority of custodial sentences have been significantly comprised of the suspended ones. Yet, between 1998 and 2014 prison sentence was imposed in 4 332 240 cases – of which 3 694 222 were suspended.  Some tend to say that suspended sentence is not a real punishment. A lack of immediate consequences makes people feel that their wrongdoing may go unpunished. Then there is a question on how seriously people take the obligation to comply with any imposed conditions, for example, probation supervision. In any event, it would be very interesting to compare and contrast this data with demographics and to look separately at the number of activated suspended sentences in order to get a better picture of the imprisonment rate in Poland.

Source: Final and legally binding custodial sentences given to adult offenders between 1946 and 2014, Ministry of Justice (2015)

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