Combining different disciplines, Leiden University researchers work together to formulate innovative solutions to societal problems. Below is an example from the field of law, politics and administration.

Overview Research in the spotlight

A fitting punishment

Preventing criminals from reoffending

A punishment that fits the crime is the cornerstone of the rechtsstaat or constitutional state. But opinions differ greatly on what constitutes a just and effective punishment. Research by Leiden University provides politicians, legislators, law enforcers and the public with new information and insights on punishment.

New objective complicates punishment

It is fundamentally important that all of society supports the criminal justice system and associated criminal procedure. One of the pillars of a stable society is a justice system that its citizens know and trust. The constant critical eye of academia on the sentences we impose ensures that the system changes along with society.
Academic research into sentencing has become more urgent because much has changed in the Netherlands over the last 10 years. The aim of punishment appears to be shifting from retribution and deterrence to treating and monitoring offenders as much as is possible and thus creating a safer society. This new aim makes it more difficult to find a just punishment. Each offender is different, and many people who appear before the courts suffer from social and mental problems. What constitutes a fitting punishment if the aim is successful treatment and a safe society? Furthermore, the effectiveness of punishment such as a prison sentence is questionable, and there are new crimes, cybercrime in particular. Here we need to start from scratch: what is an appropriate punishment for stealing someone’s Pokémon or using malware to hold someone to digital ransom?

Knowledge of the whole chain of criminal justice

Leiden is the address for knowledge about punishment. Scholars from the disciplines of law, criminology, social sciences and philosophy work closely together, and in their research they cover the entire chain of criminal justice: from establishing the legal framework for sentencing to verdicts and offenders’ lives before, during and after their sentence. Qualitative and quantitative research delivers astonishing insights, for instance that judges sentence offenders from a certain ethnic background differently than offenders from another background; that prisoners do not stay in prison long enough to follow training that would actually help them; that fathers in prison should be ‘emancipated’; and that – paradoxically enough – the gap between public opinion on sentencing and the sentences that are actually imposed does not present a problem.

These types of discovery allow scholars from Leiden to advise various players in the chain of criminal justice, such as the Ministry of Justice, the courts, the prisons and the probation service. The research makes an essential contribution to the goal of the criminal justice system: a safer society.

Institute for Criminal Law and Criminology
Leiden Law School
Faculty of Social Sciences