The Influence of Perceived Crime Seriousness on Punishment Policy: A Comparative Investigation

James P. Lynch, The American University
Melissa Schaefer, The American University

Perceptions concerning the seriousness of crime influence the decisions of policy makers when creating legal sanctions. The literature primarily contains scholarly discussions concerning the relationship between victims' perceptions and how they should influence public policy. Evidence suggests that some consensus exists about perceptions of seriousness among victims of crime within and across nations. However, little empirical research investigates this relationship within nations and almost none examines this relationship across nations.

This study attempts to fill this research gap by exploring cross-national differences in how victims evaluate the seriousness of crime. Using the International Crime Victimization Survey (ICVS), this paper proposes to apply the model of seriousness scaling developed by American researchers cross-nationally. An ordered probit analysis is conducted to determine if nation affects how the seriousness of offenses is assessed across developed nations. Nation effects are then analyzed to determine to what extent they correlate with national punishment policies.

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Updated 05/20/2006