Enhancing the Measurement of Sentence Severity through Expert Knowledge Elicitation



Quantitative research on judicial decision-making faces the methodological challenge of analysing disposal types that are measured in different units (e.g. money for fines, days for custodial sentences). To overcome this problem a wide range of scales of sentence severity have been suggested in the literature. One particular group of severity scales that has achieved high validity and reliability are those based on Thurstone’s pairwise comparisons. However, this method invokes a series of simplifying assumptions, one of them being that the range of severity covered by different disposal types is constant. We undertook an expert elicitation workshop to assess the validity of that assumption. Responses from the six criminal law practitioners and researchers that participated in our workshop unanimously pointed at severity ranges being highly variable across disposal types (e.g. much wider severity ranges were identified for suspended custodial sentences than for fines). We used this information to re-specify Thurstone’s model allowing for unequal variances. As a result, we obtained a new, more robust, scale of sentence severity.

Author Biographies

Jose Pina-Sanchez, University of Leeds

School of Law, University of Leeds

John Paul Gosling, University of Durham

School of Mathematics, University of Durham