Experiences of Sentencing and the Pains of Punishment: Prisoners’ Perspectives

Deirdre Atkins, Niamh Maguire, Geraldine Cleere

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although sentencing is often described as a human process, the subjective experiences of those subject to sentencing are seldom discussed or highlighted as an important source of guidance for how sentencing might be made more fair, consistent, or proportionate. Tyler’s work on the links between experiences of procedural justice and perceptions of legitimacy in the criminal justice system show that how people are treated during sentencing and/or when serving their sentence matters in that it impacts their long-term compliance with the law. However, we suggest here that it may not only be long-term compliance that is impacted; subjective experiences of imprisonment, in terms of the pains of imprisonment, may also be exacerbated for those whose experiences of the sentencing process are predominantly negative. This article draws on 37 in-depth interviews with Irish prisoners that explored their subjective experiences of their own sentencing in court and how this related to their subjective experiences of their prison sentences. Those who felt they had received unreasonably harsh or unfair sentences, or who felt they were effectively excluded from the sentencing process, were more likely to experience specific pains and increased salience of punishment. The article concludes by arguing that these findings have a role to play in educating sentencers about how their treatment of convicted persons during sentencing can have meaningful, long-term consequences on the subjective experiences of those serving prison sentences.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jan 2023


  • imprisonment
  • legitimacy
  • pain of punishment
  • procedural justice
  • sentencing


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