How can sentencing change for the better? A closer look at the latest Sentencing Council consultation

The Sentencing Bill, with its intention to bring in a presumption against short custodial sentences, is currently making its way through Parliament. Meanwhile, the Sentencing Council has quietly undertaken a comprehensive consultation on their guidelines for community and custodial sentences, to which Revolving Doors has responded. Policy Manager Kelly shares some of the recommendations provided by our lived experience forums about how sentencing can be improved to rehabilitate and support those trapped in the cycle of crisis and crime:

Media attention around the latest Sentencing Council consultation has gravitated towards the section addressing the sentencing of pregnant women. However, the consultation covers a broad spectrum of sentencing aspects, ranging from thresholds and Pre-Sentence Reports (PSRs) to the delicate balance between punishment and rehabilitation.

At Revolving Doors, we seized the opportunity for our members to contribute first-hand experiences of sentencing to this important consultation. It has long been our belief that sentencing needs to recognise that being caught in a cycle of low-level offending is often indicative of unmet social needs including unaddressed trauma, problematic substance use or mental health issues, and that custodial sentences are a barrier to overcoming these issues rather than a solution. 

National Forum member

Our engagement involved two of our lived experience forums: our wide-ranging National Forum and our Women’s Forum, with the latter focusing on the section of the consultation that addressed the purposes and effectiveness of sentencing women.

In addition to the comprehensive written response we submitted to the consultation, it was encouraging to have Sentencing Council staff attend our forums to hear the reactions of our members first-hand.

Recommendations from the National Forum

  • A shift in language. We argue that the word ‘offender,’ used throughout the guidelines, serves to stigmatise the person being sentenced, causing a subconscious focus on punishment. We believe the use of the word ‘person’ as a replacement would redirect the focus from criminality towards more nuanced, rehabilitative sentencing alternatives.
  • Mandatory pre-sentence reports (PSRs). The new guidelines include a list of occasions where PSRs should be included.  Alongside our members, we continue to advocate for the mandatory request of PSRs, unless a legitimate reason exists not to do so, not least because issues necessitating a PSR often don’t surface until the report is written.
  • Eliminate misleading statements suggesting that all community orders should typically carry a ‘punitive requirement.’ This emphasis on punishment results in overloaded orders and high breach levels, particularly for individuals with significant rehabilitative needs.
  • Clearer guidance on community order breaches, particularly when they happen before addressing underlying issues like mental health or addiction. We recommend guidance that considers the impact of waiting for support has on compliance.

Members of the National Forum welcomed the clarification provided in the revised guidelines, indicating that previous convictions alone should not push an offence over the custodial threshold. There was also consensus around the proposed guidelines clarifying the parameters for community orders, emphasising that they can fulfil all the purposes of sentencing.

National Forum member

Recommendations from the Women’s Forum

  • Explicit guidelines stating that women should only be sentenced to custody in exceptional circumstances.
  • Stronger language to encourage sentencers to consider the proportionality of custodial sentences for mothers and primary caregivers, recognising the deep trauma inflicted on both mothers and their children when separation occurs.
  • The inclusion of poverty and multiple deprivation as mitigating factors, recognising their significant impact on individuals’ circumstances.

Our Women’s Forum members applaud the focus on ensuring sentencers understand the unique dynamics surrounding women being sentenced, believing these have the potential to create less harmful outcomes for women and their families.

Women’s Forum member

As the consultation process unfolds, Revolving Doors remains committed to advocating for reforms that prioritise rehabilitation and fairness in sentencing.

Our full responses to the Sentencing Council consultations are available upon request – please email our Policy Manager Kelly at