In 2007, the Prison Reform Trust published a paper on the role of personal factors in sentencing. The research identifed the following mitigating factors cited by sentencers as affecting sentence.

1. The criminal act

  • Lack of seriousness/impact of offence
  • Played minor role in relation to others
  • Received ‘rough justice’ during criminal act

2. Immediate circumstances of the offence

  • Acted under pressure from/on behalf of others
  • Provocation/threat
  • Highly emotional/distressed
  • Lack of understanding of offence
  • Spontaneous/opportunistic offence
  • No intention to cause harm
  • Offence was ‘error of judgement’

3. Wider circumstances at time of the offence

  • Youth
  • Difficult family/social circumstances
  • Financial pressures
  • Social / intellectual limitations
  • Pressing personal or family need
  • Vulnerable/immature/naïve
  • Psychiatric illness/problems

4. Response to offence and prosecution

  • Remorse (and efforts at reparation)
  • Faced up to/understands criminal behaviour
  • Has been addressing problems since arrest
  • Co-operation with authorities
  • Letter from defendant to court
  • Court processes stressful and/or long-running
  • Has lost job and reputation
  • Defendant represented himself well
  • Serious demeanour in court
  • Supportive attitude of victim

5. Defendant’s past

  • Good character or limited/irrelevant/gap in previous offending
  • Difficult/deprived background
  • Has led a productive/worthwhile life
  • Has shown a general improvement in behaviour
  • Offence uncharacteristic/’let yourself down’
  • Engaged well with previous community punishment

6.  Defendant’s present and future

  • Family responsibilities
  • Can address/is addressing drug problems
  • Unlikely to reoffend/cause harm (general point)
  • Prison will not benefit defendant and/or the public
  • Supportive family/partner
  • Currently in work/training or prospects of work/training
  • Can address/is addressing alcohol problems
  • Can or may make amends for offending behaviour
  • Is a capable person
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Age (older)
  • Physical illness/disability
  • Non-English speaking (therefore prison would be especially difficult)

7.  Proportionality and consistency

  • Need to avoid over-long custodial sentence
  • Consistency with co-defendants
  • Has effectively spent time on curfew order (on bail)
  • Has spent time in hospital since offence
  • Totality principle