Truth in (the implementation of) sentencing: Belgium and elsewhere

Kristel Beyens, Sonja Snacken, Dirk Van Zyl Smit

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


'Truth in sentencing' is an apparently simple concept with considerable rhetorical power, if only because it is hard to support its opposite: 'dishonesty in sentencing'. On closer examination, however, the concept is more ambiguous than it might seem at first glance. As Freiberg and Moore have pointed out, truth in sentencing originally referred to the difference between the sentence imposed by a court and the time actually served by the offender. Proponents of truth in sentencing therefore tended to attack early release of sentenced prisoners. Where they were successful, this is related in a number of jurisdictions to the restricted use if not the outright abolition of remission and parole. It is worth noting however, following Freiberg and Moore further, that truth in sentencing may also be a critique of the sentencing process itself, for it can also refer to the gap between statutory maximum penalties and the sentences imposed by the courts and to the idea that the nature and form of the sentence should be honest and transparent.

This article initially focuses on the example of Belgium in order to unravel and explain the complex interaction of different actors at various levels (discourse at the symbolic representational level versus practice). Such a specific focus is adopted in order to recognise the importance of a situated understanding of how 'truth in sentencing' plays itself out as an element in penal policy. However, in the subsequent section consideration is given to wider European developments in respect of the implementation of sentences and the early release from them, which may impact on the evolution of local policies and particularly on a narrow understanding of truth in sentencing. They may also serve as examples of how best to develop policy in this area.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEuropean Penology?
EditorsT. Daems, D. Van Zyl Smit, S. Snacken
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherHart Publishing
Number of pages20
ISBN (Print)978-1-84946-233-4
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Publication series

NameOnati International Series in Law and Society

Bibliographical note

T. Daems, D. van Zyl Smit, S. Snacken


  • sentencing


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