European conference on Reducing the Use of Imprisonment in Sentencing & Penal Decision-Making

The Sentencing & Penal Decision-Making European Group

Reducing the Use of Imprisonment in Sentencing & Penal Decision-Making: A European Conference

Thursday 8th – Friday 9th June 2017

Edinburgh, Scotland


Call for Participation


This conference aims to bring together academic researchers, as well as practitioners, policy officials and others to learn from each other and to debate the efforts across Europe to reduce the use of imprisonment in sentencing and penal decision-making.

It is widely recognised that imprisonment should be used as sparingly as possible. Yet across the globe, and in several European countries, the rate and use of imprisonment remains stubbornly high. Rather than being explicable by crime rates or efficacy in reducing offending, it is well-established that variations in the rates and use of incarceration are more the result of laws, policies, and decision-making practices, enveloped in a wider cultural prison-centric environment.

Despite the widespread desire to reduce the use of imprisonment, especially in respect of those committing less serious offences, progress has been limited. Why is this? How can we understand efforts to reduce the use of imprisonment and how have some countries made significant recent progress? What can we learn from each other?

This conference will tackle key questions in the effort to reduce the use of imprisonment including for example:

Ø   International Learning. What can we learn from the experience of different countries?

Ø   Penal Aims. What is, and should be, the relationship between penal aims (e.g. deterrence, retribution, rehabilitation, etc) and the use of imprisonment?

Ø   Communications. How, if at all, should evidence about the use of imprisonment be constructed, and communicated?

Ø   Reforms. What impact do specific reforms to decision-making and wider policies have on the use of imprisonment?

Ø   Release from Prison. Is the major expansion in the use of ‘back-door’ release mechanisms politically sustainable?

Ø   Decision Processes. How can the use of imprisonment be understood within the serial context of decision-making (e.g. police, prosecution, sentence implementation etc)?

Ø   Poverty & less serious offences. Why do impoverished people who have not committed serious offences keep ending up in prison and how (if at all) can this be changed?

Ø   Emotions. How, if at all, should emotional needs (e.g. of victims, offenders, the public) be facilitated? Can, (and should), this make a difference to the use of imprisonment?

Ø   Non-Prison Penalties. Is it possible to dislodge imprisonment as the cultural default? If so, how? Are community-based penalties increasing at the expense of other ‘alternative’ penalties (e.g. the fine)?

Ø   Non-Court Sanctioning. Do such ‘offers’ of settlement (e.g. by police, prosecution) divert people from criminal sanctioning, or, do they draw more people into a net of control?

Ø   Electronic Monitoring. What does the rise of Electronic Monitoring across Europe signify? Can it help to reduce the use of imprisonment?

These indicative and other questions will be addressed at the conference.


Scotland’s Choice

As well as its assets as a visitor destination, Scotland is an apt place to the tackle the quest to reduce the use of imprisonment. Having one of the highest rates of per capita imprisonment in Western Europe, successive Scottish administrations have repeatedly stated a bold ambition to reduce radically the use of imprisonment, especially for less serious cases. But how can this bold ambition be achieved? This conference will help to contribute European evidence, ideas and debates to the attempt to realise this ambition in Scotland, as well as in other countries.


Why Come to Scotland?

Conference delegates will find that Scotland offers a wealth of attractions. The compact intriguing city of Edinburgh, long a magnet for intellectuals and artists, is steeped in a fascinating heritage. With the stunning west highlands on its doorstep, lovers of the great outdoors (from golf, hill-walking to sailing) will be spoilt for choice.


Proposals to Present a Paper

If you wish to propose a formal paper please send a title and abstract to the Conference Chair (Prof Cyrus Tata) at before the end of Monday 20th March. Abstracts should be 200-500 words in length. Papers may be conceptual, empirically-based (whether by quantitative or qualitative work) or inspired by one or more disciplines.

There is a preference for work at a relatively mature stage of completion and/or more ambitious in nature, as well as encouraging speakers from a range of jurisdictions. 

The language of the symposium will be English.

Who Should Attend?

The conference particularly welcomes attendees from a range of jurisdictions, and disciplinary backgrounds.

Ø  As well as scholars and researchers, practitioners, policy-makers, members of the third sector and all those with a serious interest in this subject are warmly encouraged to join the conference.


Deadline for Registration: Monday 20th March 2017

If you wish to attend the conference, even if you are not offering a formal paper please email the Chair, Cyrus Tata.


There will be no registration charge for taking part in the symposium itself.  However, places are limited so please get in touch as soon as possible.


There will be dinners (self-paying) on Thursday and Friday evenings – these are intended to be informal, inclusive and convivial evenings.

Venue: Our venue at Edinburgh University is in the centre of Edinburgh, one of the world’s most beautiful and intriguing cities. Further information about getting to Edinburgh, suggested accommodation options and fuller programme will follow. It is hoped that participants will be able to stay close to each other and socialise in the evenings.



The symposium will consist of 40-60 participants. By deliberately having a limited number of participants, the symposium will contrast with the approach of large conferences where time for discussion and exchange about the implications of a paper can be limited. By contrast, in this focused conference we have more time to think and converse in a relatively intimate setting. Having a smaller number of scheduled presentations on a focused theme allows generous time for an informal, inclusive and challenging discussion.


Updated: 12 June 2017 — 11:29


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