Differences in Punitiveness Across Three Cultures: A Test of American Exceptionalism in Justice Attitudes

46 Pages Posted: 5 Feb 2014

Date Written: February 3, 2014

Abstract

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world and a more punitive approach to criminal justice issues than comparable Western democracies. One potential explanation for this distinctiveness is that Americans, as individuals, are uniquely punitive toward criminals. The present study explores the possibility of cultural differences in punitive attitudes. Census-representative samples of Americans, Canadians, and Germans were asked to assign sentences to a variety of people who had committed different offenses. Even though Canada has much more lenient sentencing policies than the United States in practice, Americans and Canadians generally did not differ from each other in sentencing attitudes. Both assigned slightly longer sentences than did Germans, however. Americans, therefore, do not appear to be uniquely punitive at the individual level. Also, people from all three cultures were in agreement about the moral wrongfulness of most baseline crimes, indicating that enhanced American and Canadian punitiveness is not due to an increased sense of moral outrage. Institutional explanations for American Exceptionalism in policies are discussed.

Keywords: Punitive Attitudes, Psychology, Criminal Sentencing, Criminal Law

Suggested Citation

Kugler, Matthew B. and Funk, Friederike and Braun, Judith and Gollwitzer, Mario and Kay, Aaron C. and Darley, John M., Differences in Punitiveness Across Three Cultures: A Test of American Exceptionalism in Justice Attitudes (February 3, 2014). Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Vol. 103, No. 4, 2013, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2390132

Matthew B. Kugler (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

Friederike Funk

Princeton University ( email )

Department of Psychology
Princeton, NJ 08540
United States

Judith Braun

University of Marburg ( email )

Universitätsstrasse 24
D-35032 Marburg, D-35032
Germany

Mario Gollwitzer

University of Marburg ( email )

Universitätsstrasse 24
D-35032 Marburg, D-35032
Germany

Aaron C. Kay

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

John M. Darley

Princeton University ( email )

1-N-17 Green Hall
Princeton, NJ 08544
United States
609-258-3000 (Phone)

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