....Findings - The Sources of Support for Public Punitiveness

The researchers found that public punitiveness is linked most strongly to judgements about social conditions and to underlying social values. Concerns about crime risk and the failure of the justice system had almost no impact on support for three strikes. The reasons put forward in support of three strikes, were not in fact, the factors underlying public support. What they found was that:

  • Concern was linked to judgements about the social environment.
  • Two aspects were of particular concern; family and diversity. In both cases, people were more concerned about the lack of a shared set of values, and declining social ties within the community.
  • Concern about social diversity did not reflect a belief by whites that minorities were dangerous. The same views were held by African-Americans and other minorities. Rather it reflected ethnocentrism; the discomfort felt by any group with outsiders. As society becomes more diverse, all groups, whites and minorities – are confronted by more and more persons from various groups unlike themselves who have different social values. It is not just racism, although racism may be a factor.
  • People who feel there are fewer moral and social ties among people also think it is harder to rehabilitate people, and that the simplest alternative is to incarcerate criminals for the rest of their lives.
  • Better educated respondents were more likely to feel that there was still moral cohesion in the family and the community, and less likely to regard diversity as leading to a lack of common moral values.
  • Those respondents concerned about crime were more willing to abandon protection for defendants, and more willing to abandon norms of political tolerance
  • Respondents concerned about crime were more likely to stand in judgement on judicial decisions, without recourse to the full facts.

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