Focal Concerns Perspective
Focal Concerns Theory
The focal concerns theory was developed by Stenonlzxd and his fellow colleagues in 1980. The basis of this theory argues that judges presiding over trials base there decisions around three focal concerns of blameworthiness, practical constraints, consequences, and protection of the community. For example, if a defendant is viewed as blameworthy, dangerous and less likely to have practical constraints and consequences, they would receive much harsher or severe sentences.
The first focal concern focus' on the blameworthiness of the defendant. The focus specifically reflects on the seriousness of the offenders involvement with the crime and the offender previous record. In other words, the more serious the offense and the more criminal offenses the offender posses, ...view middle of the document...
The practical constraints refer to the offender inability to serve the punishment given to them. Judges look into the cost of incarceration, impact on family , the effect on courtroom relationships such as reputation of the court, overcrowding of correctional facilities and offender's health state.
The focal concerns theory states that judges have little information to make sentence determination. Judges also have very little time to familiarize themselves with these cases in order to determine a proper punishment. Things like overcrowded courtrooms and dockets force judges to make quicker decisions to avoid looking at the three focal concerns. According to the theory this will result in judges to stereotype the offender based on characteristics that are clearly visible and inherent status derived from gender,age, social class and race. This is known as perceptual shorthand. Researchers such as Spohn (2007) and Freiburger, Marcum and Pierce (2009) have conducted studies that resulted in revealing that the perceptual shorthand of judges has resulted in disparities within the criminal justice system. In the case of race, African-American offenders were seen as more serious because the possibility of recidivism is to be very high compared to other social categories.
It is not difficult to see that the focal concern theory would help identify the weaknesses that judges face when determining a sentence punishment. This theory may help answer the research question of does race really play a part in the harshness of sentencing and whether judges have the ability and time to use racial discrimination when deciding sentences. Having judges reside over less criminal cases that involve race in serious offenses could, have a more effective solution in the severity of the sentence that are handed to offender's especially offenders categorized by race.