Wood, Jane L. and Viki, G. Tendayi
Public perceptions of Crime and Punishment.
In: Adler, Joanna R., ed.
Forensic Psychology: Concepts, Debates and Practice.
Willan Publishing, United Kingdom, pp. 16-36.
(Full text available)
Findings concerning people’s attitudes toward crime and punishment are often at odds, perhaps influenced by various factors that are not captured in the original research. The authors focus on some of the factors that have a bearing on the attitudes people express in order to gauge a more accurate assessment of public opinion. Historically, attitudes and policy approaches toward criminal justice have fluctuated based on the economic conditions of society. At times of high unemployment, public opinion on criminal justice tends to swing toward the more punitive so that conditions within prison are more austere than the living conditions of the poorest members of society. The influence of gender in attitudes toward crime and punishment is questioned as some studies have found gender differences while others have not. Racial differences in attitudes toward crime and punishment are similarly ambiguous. As such, categorizing the public’s attitudes toward crime and punishment according to demographic categories remains problematic as the influence of some demographics appear to be indirect. Similarly contrasting research is reviewed concerning the role that fear of crime plays in shaping public attitudes toward criminal justice practices. Some inconsistencies in research findings may be the result of differing methodologies. The role of victimization on public attitudes is reviewed; findings have failed to find a link between victimization and attitudes of increased punitiveness toward offenders. The link between individual ideological beliefs and attitudes toward crime and punishment has been probed by researchers who have identified some personal beliefs that influence attitudes, such as degree of religiosity and the belief in a just world. The influence of the type of offense on attitudes of punitiveness have been examined and has illustrated the more offenses an offender has committed, the more punitive the attitude toward the offender. Finally, the authors show that the attitudes of the public toward punitive punishments may be based on inaccurate knowledge of punitive sanctions. This review has established that the public’s attitudes toward crime and punishment are contextual and thus difficult to assess. Sweeping statements about the public’s desire for more punitive punishment are based on inaccurate measurements. Notes, references
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