Anti Death Penalty = Pro Vigilante? Exploring Nuances and Contradictions in Public Opinion About Criminal Justice

Angela M. Schadt, Iowa State University
Matt DeLisi, Iowa State University

Public opinion about criminal justice issues is multifaceted, but surveys often employ simple questions (e.g., Do you support capital punishment?) to measure it. The current research attempts to explore the nuances and potential contradictions in criminal justice opinions. The Criminal Justice Values Survey was administered to 250 undergraduates at a large Midwestern university and 218 surveys were completed (87% response rate). The majority of respondents favored the use of capital punishment for a variety of crimes, including several sub-lethal offenses. Among death penalty opponents, 17% of respondents felt that the state should never have the authority to execute its citizens, however some death penalty opponents favorged vigilantism as a form of social control. Moreover, 33% of all respondents reported that they would be tempted to kill anyone who victimized their family and 80% reported that they would be tempted to injure the perpetrator who victimized their family. A sizable proportion of respondents is neutral or ambivalent about nearly all criminal justice issues. We conclude that death penalty opponents are not necessarily "soft on crime," indeed many advocate punitive methods not currently practiced.

(Return to Program Resources)

Updated 05/20/2006