Authority and Punishment: On the Ideological Basis of Punitive Attitudes towards Criminals
Monica M. Gerber
London School of Economics & Political Science - Methodology Institute
London School of Economics & Political Science - Department of Methodology
February 5, 2012
Why do people call for the tough sentencing of criminal offenders? Two psychological explanations dominate the criminological literature. The first is an instrumental perspective: people are concerned about becoming victims of crime, and they look to punishment to reduce the likelihood of future harm. The second is a relational perspective: people are concerned about community breakdown, and they support retributive punishment to restore moral boundaries and values threatened by crime. Presenting evidence for a third psychological model of punitive sentiment based on right-wing authoritarianism, we show that ideological preferences (about the right and proper way of achieving a desired society) predict both the extent to which people worry about threats to the social order and the extent to which people believe that criminals should be punished harshly. Opening up a new line of research that bridges political psychology and criminological inquiry, we conclude with the idea that popular punitive sentiment is grounded in an uncritical submission to authorities, an adherence to conservative moral values, and consonant concerns about collective security and cohesion.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 19
Keywords: punitive attitudes, relational concerns, instrumental concerns, Right-wing Authoritarianism
JEL Classification: K40working papers series
Date posted: April 4, 2011 ; Last revised: February 5, 2012
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