NORMATIVE CONSENSUS IN JUDGMENTS OF PRISON SENTENCES: POPULAR AND SELECTED CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM PERCEPTIONS OF FAIR PUNISHMENTS FOR CONVICTED OFFENDERS (GENDER, RACE)
The purpose of this study is to investigate empirically the extent of consensus in normative systems for punishing convicted offenders.
A factorial survey design was used to elicit either 25 or 50 distinct harshness ratings of prison terms given out hypothetically to convicted felons from more than 1,400 respondents. A block quota sample of Boston SMSA households and convenience samples of police, law students, and state prison inmates were interviewed.
The general population respondent sample is segmented into gender by race groups for analysis. Proximity to crime and subjective experiences with crime vary by race and gender and may account for differences observed in judgments of prison sentences.
Four indicators of judgment agreement derived from multiple regression models are used to investigate the extent of normative consensus found within the general population and across three selected groups of criminal justice system respondents. In general, these indicators suggest dissensus between the races that may be attributable to perceptions of injustice among blacks. More importantly, these indicators uncover more judgment disagreements between black men and black women than between blacks and whites, suggesting that structured differences in crime related experiences account for perceptions of fair punishments for convicted offenders.
An investigation of judgments made by criminal justice system respondent groups shows prisoners dissent from the view shared by police and law students of who should get what prison sentence. State prison inmates are strongly influenced by the offender's personal attributes when forming judgments of fair punishments.
Overall, the empirical analysis of judgments of prison sentences suggests that whites in the general population, police, and law students share the view that the just deserts principle for criminal sentencing can achieve justice. Blacks and state prison inmates share the view that an individualized justice model for sentencing can achieve fair systems for punishing offenders. Proximity to the crime problem and minority group status in the U.S. are suggested as two possible explanations for dissenting judgments of normative systems for distributing punishment.