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Cognitive Biases and Procedural Rules: Enhancing the Use of Alternative Sanctions

In: European Journal of Crime, Criminal Law and Criminal Justice
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  • 1 Rotterdam Institute of Law and Economics (rile), Erasmus School of Law, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Burg. Oudlaan 50, 3062 pa Rotterdam, The Netherlands, reznichenko@law.eur.nl
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The practice of short-term imprisonment has been long criticised due to its criminogenic effect and costs. To minimise its use, many European countries introduced alternative sanctions such as community service or home confinement with electronic monitoring. Unfortunately, in practice those sanctions are often imposed on non prison-bound offenders, a phenomenon termed ‘the net-widening problem’. Consequently, instead of reducing the prison population, the alternative sanctions substitute lighter punishments such as fines or conditional imprisonment. The discretion power whether to impose a prison sentence or its alternatives lies in the hands of the judges. Therefore, the way to enhance the use of alternative sanctions as a substitute to short-term imprisonment is to change the behaviour of judges. This paper adopts the behavioural law and economics approach to discuss, in the context of European criminal justice systems, how certain procedural rules overcome or use cognitive biases in order to promote the use of alternative sanctions.

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