Environmental Threat and Punitive Attitudes Toward Environmental Crime

Tara O'Connor Shelley, Florida State University
Ted Chiricos, Florida State University
Marc Gertz, Florida State University

The social threat approach to social control has traditionally emphasized the putative threat of minorities as a factor that can mobilizes punitive responses. We argue that the relevance of threat for punitiveness can be more broadly understood and that social threats can have a variety of origins. In this paper we focus on threats to public and personal health and to quality of life that may be posed by various environmentally sensitive factors such as hazardous waste disposal, industrial pollution, chemical spills, etc. We use data collected from a national telephone survey (N=850) to assess whether the perception of environmental threat is related to respondent's willingness to impose harsh penalties on those who commit environmental crimes. The perception of environmental threat is measured at the proximate level in terms of personal health and safety and at a more global level in terms of threats to the environment in general. Punitive attitudes are measured by the endorsement of a series of progressively harsher measures in response to several environmental crime scenarios. OLS regression is used to estimate the independent effects of perceived environmental threat on punitiveness, controlling for other factors that predict punitive attitudes toward environmental crime.

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Updated 05/20/2006