Thursday, September 17, 1998 Published at 12:49 GMT 13:49 UK
Courts are tougher than you think
70% of those who were convicted in a crown court went to jail last year
More criminals are being sent to jail for longer, according to new figures published by the Home Office.
The report, based on a Home Office survey in 1997 of public attitudes, says the evidence contradicts public perception that courts have gone soft.
The survey found that the public overestimate the amount of violent crime that takes place, and underestimates the severity of courts in dealing with crime.
The Home Office says the results matter because sentences are supposed to act as a deterrent.
Therefore if a criminal thinks he will get a lower sentence than the court would give, the deterrent does not work.
A spokesman also pointed out that court sentencing is partly in reaction to public opinion.
So if the public feels the courts are being more lenient than they ought to be then there is an ever increasing pressure on the courts to be tougher all the time.
The home office said that, combined with prison overcrowding, this was cause for serious concern.
Sentencing adult rapists:
Most people thought a 21-year-old male rapist would not go to jail. In fact 99% of them got a custodial sentence.
'Cautions, Court Proceedings and Sentencing' shows how offenders were dealt with by the criminal justice system in 1997.
When asked if they could project what the figures might be in the future, the Home Office said that there had been a peak in tough sentencing policy.
At the moment 60% of people coming before a crown court get a custodial sentence and it was said that that figure probably would not go much higher.
Christopher Nuttall, director of research at the Home Office, said the mismatch between perception and reality was a matter of concern.
"The Court of Appeal has said that sentencers should be mindful of public opinion.
"It is therefore important that whatever influence the public have on sentencers should be based on knowledge as to what is really happening," he said.