Sentencing for child homicide offences: Assessing public opinion using a focus group approach

Photo of a playground swing
Abstract

Public opinion about sentencing is notoriously difficult to assess. In 2017, the Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council was asked to do just that in relation to sentencing for child homicide offences. Building on the existing literature on public attitudes to the criminal justice system, this study aimed to explore community views on this issue using a focus group methodology. A group of 103 participants was recruited by a market research company from a mix of urban and rural locations in Queensland. After completing a series of questionnaires, participants were assigned a ‘punitiveness score’ and assessed the seriousness of three separate child homicide vignettes. The study found that participants viewed the sentences as inadequate and not sufficiently reflective of the vulnerability and defencelessness of the child. These findings contributed to the Council’s recommendations to the Attorney-General and have since led to legislative change.