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Towards an Understanding of Individual Deterrence: Perceptions of Inmates Concerning Certainty and Severity of Punishment

NCJ Number
Journal of Crime and Justice Volume: 10 Issue: 11 Dated: (1987) Pages: 105-122
C Veneziano; M Williams
Date Published
18 pages
One of the purposes of corrections is assumed to be the individual deterrence of incarcerated offenders, but little empirical research has been done concerning the dynamics of this hypothesized process. The purpose of the present study was to examine the perceptions of inmates concerning aspects of deterrence, specifically their attitudes toward certainty and severity of punishment for various crimes.
A sample of 147 inmates was surveyed, and their responses were compared to samples of correctional officers and private citizens. The results indicate that about two-thirds of prison inmates tended to see the laws as being strictly enforced, and punishments as being about right or too strict, although there were some differences depending on the crime. The private citizens, in contrast, generally felt that the laws were not strictly enforced for the various crimes, and that the punishments were not strict enough; correctional officers tended to fall between these two groups, although their responses were more like those of private citizens. The differences among the three groups were statistically significant for most of the questions. For the inmates, criminal career variables (i.e., prior convictions, sentence length), were independent of their attitudes toward enforcement and punishment. These results suggested that being caught and incarcerated for crimes might have had a experiential effect, and thus could be reflective of specific deterrence. Directions for future research were discussed, particularly with respect to the types of individual differences among inmates which might affect changes in attitudes as a consequence of enforcement and punishment. (Author abstract)