Back to RJ Archive

Public opinion about punishment and corrections

Cullen, Francis T
June 4, 2015

Source: (2000) Crime and Justice: A Review of Research, vol. 27, edited by Michael Tonry, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press: pp. 1-79.

The public clearly accepts, if not prefers, a range of punitive policies, such as capital punishment, three strikes laws, and imprisonment, but support for get tough policies appears to be “mushy.” Thus, citizens may be willing to substitute a sentence of life imprisonment without parole for the death penalty. Especially when non-violent offenders are involved, there is substantial support for intermediate sanctions and restorative justice. Despite three decades of criticism, rehabilitation, especially for young people, remains an integral part of the correctional philosophy of Americans. There is also widespread support for early intervention programs. Overall, the public shows a tendency to be both punitive and progressive, wanting the correctional system to achieve the diverse missions of doing justice, protecting public safety, and reforming criminals. The authors conclude lack of political will, not public opinion, is the main barrier to developing a more balanced approach to sentencing and correctional policies. Future research is recommended to study correctional policies based on national samples, to learn more about the relationship between global and specific attitudes, to study the public’s limited knowledge of punishment and correctional issues, to determine whether public opinion fluctuates in response to real events in the wider environment, and to consider crime across the life course. Abstract courtesy of National Criminal Justice Reference Service,


Support the cause

We've Been Restoring Justice for More Than 40 Years

Your donation helps Prison Fellowship International repair the harm caused by crime by emphasizing accountability, forgiveness, and making amends for prisoners and those affected by their actions. When victims, offenders, and community members meet to decide how to do that, the results are transformational.

Donate Now