Two contrasting images of the public have emerged from the literature on public attitudes toward sentencing and incarceration: a punitive public that demands long prison terms and a merciful public that supports community-based sanctions after considering the seriousness of the offense and the perceived character and blameworthiness of the offender. Although politicians and the media insist that the public wants to impose tougher and longer prison sentences, research shows that public views about appropriate sentences are much more complex. Read more about Sentencing and Incarceration.
Sentencing and Incarceration Research Topics
Misperceptions of criminal justice statistics abound. The average member of the public tends to underestimate the severity of the sentencing process as well as the parole system. When asked to estimate the average sentence for a particular crime, many people provide a response that is lower than the actual level. This finding has emerged from research conducted in the United States, England, Canada, and Australia. The public also is unaware of which crimes require prison time and of the minimum or maximum prison time required by criminal statutes. These underestimates underlie public attitudes that there should be more congruency between the assigned sentence and the actual number of years served. In those countries that have parole, most people assume that almost all offenders get parole, when in fact only a small fraction are released from prison early. Although offenders sentenced to life often are released on parole after serving on average a decade or more in prison, the public overwhelming agrees that a life sentence should mean that the offender serves his or her natural life in prison.
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