Explaining Public Attitudes Toward Punishment

Timothy F. Hartnagel, University of Alberta

Several perspectives have been employed in research directed at explaining public attitudes toward the punishment of criminal offenders. These perspectives include the instrumental, the subcultural, and the ideological. They hypothesize support for punishment, respectively, as a means for responding to public fear and concern about crime; as a reflection of differences among groupsl or as an expression of particular societal values and beliefs. The latter can be further differentiated into socio-political values, economic values, and beliefs concerning crime and criminals. However, these perspectives are unlikely to be completely independent. For example, fear of crime is known to be higher in some categories of the population; and particular socio-political values may correlate with specific economic values and/or beliefs concerning crime and criminals. This paper will further develop theoretical arguments for the potential links among these perspectives and test the hypothesized interaction effects with data from a survey of adult residents of the Province of Alberta.

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Updated 05/20/2006