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Creating a balance in sentencing offenders: A step towards restorative justice.

Nichols, Lindsay
June 4, 2015

Source: (2010) Thesis. Applied Social Psychology. Loyola University Chicago.

Public sentencing preferences often determine the sentencing statutes created by legislators.
Extracting public opinion is typically done through mass public opinion polls; however, research
has found that these polls often produce misleading findings. In order to accurately dissect the
various layers of laypersons’ sentencing choices, a victim impact statement (VIS) and a
statement of offender remorse were manipulated within a crime scenario depicting moderately
severe crimes. A total of 215 participants were randomly assigned to one of the 16 conditions in
this 2 (crime type: residential burglary or unarmed robbery) x 2 (VIS: absence or presence) x 2
(offender remorse statement: partial or full apology) x 2 (counterbalance: VIS first or remorse
statement first). As expected, the VIS caused participants to assign harsher sentences whereas
the offender remorse statement caused more lenient sentences. The Theory of Attribution
(Heider 1958; Kelley, 1967; Weiner, 1985) was applied to the current research, but attributions
did not explain why the VIS or remorse affected sentencing harshness. The VIS statement did
not, however, influence participants’ attribution of the criminal behavior to internal
characteristics (i.e. greed or laziness) nor did the remorse statement have a significant effect on
the perception of external reasons (i.e. lack of jobs) as the cause for the offender’s behavior.
Respondents who attributed the crime to a character flaw, however, gave harsher sentences.
As hypothesized, participants in the VIS present conditions were significantly more likely to use
retributive sentencing goals while determining a sentence for the offender whereas those in the full remorse statement conditions were significantly more likely to decide on a sentence with restorative justice goals. These hypotheses, however, were only partially supported because the VIS did not significantly influence restorative sentencing goals and the remorse statement did not influence the retributive sentencing goals. Though unexpected, if respondents inferred that the victim overreacted to the crime, they were significantly more likely to discount the VIS statement and to infer less emotional harm and recommend a more lenient sentence. Inferences about the victim’s overreaction also were related to participants’ inferences that the offender was less to blame, less sympathy for the victim, and perceptions that the crime was less serious.


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