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Monday, January 12, 2015

Public Perception of Leniency

Advanced Research Methods
Week 5
Discussion 2

St. Amand and Zamble discuss the issue of public surveys in regards to the perception of leniency in the criminal justice punishment system. Factors that play a part involve the public perception of the “typical” offender and the public's knowledge of the criminal justice system as a whole. They contend that a “better” informed public would have a more “positive” perception of levels of leniency. They offer the hypothesis that “lack of familiarity with actual sentencing patterns contributes to dissatisfaction with the criminal justice system” (St. Armand & Zamble, 2001, p. 518) To test their hypothesis, they initiated a pilot study and main study of college student subjects; The pilot study was a 2-factor study(information and attitude accessibility) conducted in 3 phases which first weighed sentencing decisions, then manipulated attitude accessibility, and finally tested sentencing scenarios against a range of offenses (controlling for offender characteristics across offenses) based upon their prediction of judgment. The main study had one independent variable based upon four levels of information access. These measures were based upon the first phase of the pilot study. The second phase of the pilot was removed from the main study. The final phase was conducted as in the pilot. They found a general level of dissatisfaction with the criminal justice system, which matches past studies. They conclude that “negative attitudes are not a straightforward relation to an overly lenient system” (St. Armand & Zamble, 2001, p. 526)

  • What does the article teach us about the uses of survey research?

That survey results do not always match the actual reactions of participants; Armand and Zamble found that, although studies have shown the public finds the system too lenient, when asked to make sentencing decisions, the public's sentencing choices match those made by the judiciary.
  • What are the implications of the authors' research in this article for the criminal justice system?
One implication is that citizens will have a better perception about the criminal justice system by educating themselves about it. The major implication is that although the public may say the system is too lenient, they would often make the same decisions.

St. Amand, M., & Zamble, E. (2001). Impact of information about sentencing decisions on public attitudes toward the criminal justice system. Law and Human Behavior, 25(5), 515–528. Retrieved from July 30, 2014 from http://search.proquest.com.southuniversity.libproxy.edmc.edu/docview/204148404

you would have to start with a better public school curricula;  our citizenry is horribly ignorant of basic concepts regarding our political system as a whole, including the criminal justice system, and more people get their perception of the criminal justice system from TV shows.  Past that, you can't force people in a free society to educate themselves.  This goes beyond the scope of the discussion, but I think a society could require certain educational standards to participate politically, but that opens up a whole can of worms ( literacy tests applied to black but not white voters, for instance); then again any political construction is subject to abuse by politicians.

I won't be using surveys for my research;  I am looking at a series of past actions and trying to determine if a political agenda made a difference on the targets of the actions.  A survey wouldn't add any information for me, I'm sorry.
For my own part, I think we are too lenient with criminals that commit mala in se offenses, and overly harsh with drug possession, regulatory violation, and pretty much any other "crimes" that really shouldn't be crimes to begin with.   I fail to see any point in putting people in jail for failing to pay traffic tickets, for instance.
I see what you mean, and it's interesting because there seems to be a loosening of parental responsibility at the same time that school administrators are going crazy with "zero tolerance" policies:
   (all these incidences are where the children are 10 or younger)
   -a little girl draws on a desk, and gets arrested and handcuffed
   -a little boy is suspended from school for eating a sandwich "into the shape of a gun"
   -a little boy is labeled as a sex offender for kissing a little girl on the cheek;  had he touched her on the privates, or simulated sexual activity towards her, I could see some kind of intervention; not in this case, and not in the way they handled it.

It just seems to me overall that the burrocrats of our society are ignoring real problems and are harassing citizens for no just cause.
I think you are right on the money about making it a business...We teach the concept of "growth complex" in theory, but we don't apply it while considering policy.

The issue of teen sex is pretty complicated; the whole reason you have an age of consent is the idea that a girl is not mature enough to make informed decisions about sex under a certain age.  I know there are many differences in state laws about how this is applied, and becomes even more complicated with close-in-age exemptions. ( I guess this compensates for the idea that a boy of a certain age isn't competent re: sex decisions either) Finally, there is the consideration that kids of that age are hormone-addled to begin with

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