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Two new measures of offence seriousness in NSW are assessed in this Crime and Justice Bulletin.

The first measure of offence seriousness, Median Sentence Ranking (MSR), was constructed by identifying the median sentence actually imposed in each Australian Standard Offence Classification group. The data used for this purpose consisted of cases finalised in the NSW Children’s, Local, District and Supreme Courts between 3 April 2000 and 31 March 2005 where the offender had no prior criminal record. The second measure, Median Statutory Maximum Ranking, was constructed by reference to the median statutory maximum penalty applicable among offences in each ASOC group. Logistic regression was used to compare the MSR and the MSMR to the current National Offence Index (NOI) in terms of (a) their ability to predict who will be sentenced to imprisonment, and (b) their ability to identify the principal offence, that is, the offence that incurred the most severe penalty.

The research concludes that the MSR is the better choice when the aim is either to investigate or control for the influence of offence seriousness on the likelihood of imprisonment or to identify which of two offences will incur the more severe sentence. The NOI is a relatively robust measure of seriousness which may make it useful when alternative measures are not available or cannot be derived or when the aim is to predict outcomes outside the criminal justice system where public opinion is a salient factor.

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