Attitudes and public punishment preferences: Finnish results of Scandinavian sense of justice research

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Opinion polls have repeatedly shown that populations favour severe penalties for offenders. However, surveys using a case vignette method, where the attributes of the case described to the respondents are varied, produce more versatile results. Such research gives a nuanced picture of punitive attitudes. In this study, the sentence decisions of laypeople who are informed about the offender’s criminal history, ethnic background, gender, social issues and substance abuse were examined.

A representative mail survey collected in Finland as part of Scandinavian sense of justice research was used as empirical data. Respondents were presented with six criminal cases and asked to determine sentences for them. All respondents received the same vignettes, but the background attributes of the offenders varied randomly.

This study showed that all the background attributes had a clear connection to the sentence decisions. Considering these results, the idea of a ‘general punitive attitude’, which is commonly used in academic literature, appears to be too simple of a way to look at the relationship between attitudes and punishment decisions.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)152-169
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 3 Aug 2018
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fields of Science

  • 5141 Sociology
  • attitudes
  • punishment preferences
  • factorial survey
  • sentencing
  • Finland

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