Sentencing and Punishment Justification: Has the Public Cooled Off?

Brian K. Payne, Old Dominion University
Randy R. Gainey, Old Dominion University
Ruth Triplett, Old Dominion University
Mona J.E. Danner, Old Dominion University

Some commentators have attributed the high prison poipulation to punitive attitudes of the public suggesting that society must separate offenders, particularly drug offenders, from law-abiding citizens for lengthy periods of time. Based on this premise, Virginia Governor James Gilmore recently proposed legislation mandating life imprisonment for drug traffickers. In this research, we examine how 840 residents of Virginia recommend sanctioning six different offense types. Attention is given to whether there are differences regading the respondents' punitiveness towards drug offenses versus non-drug offenses. In addition, the relationship between the respondents' recommended sanctions and traditional punishment justifications is considered. Results suggest that it is important to analyze the predictors of punitiveness separately for different demographic groups. Implications are provided.

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Updated 05/20/2006