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Citizen Judgments of Appropriate Punishment: An Exploratory Inquiry

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice Policy Review Volume: 1 Issue: 4 Dated: (December 1986) Pages: 357-380
A M Durham
Date Published
24 pages
This study examines whether citizens agree in their assessments of appropriate punishment for various offenses and on the underlying rationales for the punishments they assign.
The justice model suggests that punishment ought to be administered in accordance with offense seriousness and that citizens' judgments might be used in operationalizing the model. If citizen sentiments are to be considered in developing just punishment scales, they should agree on the appropriate punishments for various crimes and on the basis for such punishments. To determine whether such agreement exists, this study administered an openended questionnaire to a sample of 105 undergraduate college students. Sixty percent of respondents are male and 40 percent are female. Eighty percent are white and 75 percent were criminal justice majors. Twenty-five offenses were described in short vignettes in the self-administered survey instrument. Respondents wrote in their views of the punishment or punishments offenders should receive and the basis for their decisions. There were relatively low levels of agreement regarding both the appropriate specific punishments and the rationale for the assigned punishments. This suggests that sentencing policy reforms presumably based on public consensus about sentencing run the risk of failure. 7 tables, 52-item bibliography. (Author abstract modified)


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