The Lived Sentence: Rethinking Sentencing, Risk And Rehabilitation

Author: Maggie Hall
Publisher: Cham : Springer International Publishing, 2016. 294p.
Reviewer: Rick Sarre | March 2018

Many years ago I was talking to an experienced judge. We were discussing sentencing, and the difficult task that he faced each time he was called upon to impose a sentence. He related the story of a young man whom he had been obliged to send to prison for a short period. To this same young man he had offered, in his sentencing remarks, a number of words of counsel, directing him to turn his life around lest he spend his most productive years in a custodial environment. He then remarked to me, “I wonder what ever happened to him?”

I mention this only because it is this type of musing that appears to have prompted Maggie Hall’s book. She examines the large gap that exists between what happens in court when a sentence is passed, and what then happens in the aftermath at the hands of correctional authorities.

The fact of the matter is that once a defendant leaves the courtroom, the judicial task is completely finished (unless the court is operating under ‘therapeutic justice’ principles, which is rare outside of Victoria). Based upon her observations of correctional practice in New South Wales (the jurisdiction in Australia with the largest number of prisoners) and interviews with inmates, Hall outlines the disposition of sentence from an individual prisoner’s view, beginning with the observation that most people receiving sentence aurally don’t usually understand much of it at all.

Hall is robust in her critique of the correctional process post-sentence, beginning with the observation that rehabilitation, very often the mainstay of sentencers’ objectives, is subverted all too often by overriding concerns for staff safety and prisoner security. Programs and services will be set according to often conflicting and ever-changing agendas, paying little, if any, heed to anything that may have passed a judge or magistrate’s lips en route.

To that extent her analysis is a latter-day extension of the groundwork laid most famously by Malcolm Feeley in his watershed book, The Process is the Punishment (1979). Likewise, managerialism, says Hall, is alive and well in New South Wales correctional practice.

As an academic piece on a series of topics related to corrections, the book works well. It covers matters as diverse as drug use in prison, sexuality and sexual relations, relations between staff and prisoners, and violence and masculinity. The book explores modern penal populism, Australian-style, and the origins (and demise) of the notion of imprisonment as a punishment of last resort.

But it makes for heavy going for the reader. Its opening chapters read like a literature review before it settles down to tackle discrete topics. Spread liberally throughout are the writings of Garland, Wacquant, Foucault, none of whom is easy to follow. There is thus an assumption that the reader will be conversant with sociological theories. Those less familiar with them will struggle.

The take-home message is that the formal sentence should not end at the door of the courtroom. Would it be too hard to ask the justice process to ensure that sentencers set out their expectations, and then to have someone in the correctional process ensure that they can be pursued, if not filled? There’s an idea worth exploring.

The Lived Sentence: Rethinking Sentencing, Risk and Rehabilitation is another useful contribution to the excellent Palgrave Studies in Prisons and Penology, a series devoted entirely to prison scholarship.

Rick Sarre, Professor of Law and Criminal Justice, University of South Australia

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