If a defendant is offered probation before trial and you, as the judge, believe that probation would be a fair sentence, you should sentence the defendant to probation after the trial. I have done that many times. When a judge sentences a repeat offender (a real one, not one who is just technically a repeat offender), that's a different story. The judge gets to see that rehabilitation has not worked so far and no one has been deterred with light sentences. Inadvertently, that judge arrives at a conclusion that a heavy sentence is required to punish the defendant and, more importantly, to incapacitate the defendant. This is especially true of defendants who have already been to prison for a similar crime and continue to victimize other people.
I believe that sentencing is the most difficult thing we do. It is the most troubling aspect of being a judge. Many times I have had a good lawyer and a family convince me to give a lower sentence because they have been honest and realistic. I highly respect all those lawyers who know how to handle moments like that.
I hope we can all use this forum as a respectful sounding-board to discuss matters like this one today. As judges, we do not get much feedback from the lawyers.