Life Without Parole for Juvenile Offenders: Public Sentiments

Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 2017, Vol. 23, No. 1, 96-104

9 Pages Posted: 3 Nov 2016 Last revised: 21 Mar 2017

Jennifer Gongola

University of California, Irvine

Daniel A. Krauss

Claremont McKenna College - Department of Psychology

Nicholas Scurich

University of California, Irvine

Date Written: October 29, 2016

Abstract

The United States Supreme Court recently abolished mandatory life in prison without parole (LWOP) for juvenile offenders, holding that the practice is inconsistent with the eighth amendment’s cruel and unusual punishment clause, and its “evolving standards of decency” jurisprudence. The Court explicitly left open the question of whether nonmandatory LWOP is consistent with these constitutional standards. This article examines the public’s sentiment concerning juvenile LWOP. An online sample (n 599) weighted to be representative of the U.S. population was queried about juvenile LWOP as a general policy and in response to a specific case in which they had to impose a prison sentence on a juvenile convicted of murder. The age of the juvenile was experimentally manipulated as either 12 or 16. Overall, 31% of participants favored juvenile LWOP as a general policy while 55% were willing to impose juvenile LWOP in a specific case. The age of the juvenile moderated this effect, such that participants were more willing to impose LWOP on a 16-year-old than a 12-year-old both as a general policy matter and in the specific case. A majority of participants were consistent in their preferred punishment across both the general and specific inquiries, including 30% who selected LWOP. Political affiliation was the only demographic variable that predicted consistency in preferred punishment. Additionally, participants who consistently endorsed juvenile LWOP placed greater emphasis on retribution and deterrence as goals of punishment while individuals who evidenced inconsistent punishment preferences placed a greater emphasis on rehabilitation.

Keywords: Juvenile Justice; Incarceration; Juvenile Offending; Life in Prison

Suggested Citation

Gongola, Jennifer and Krauss, Daniel A. and Scurich, Nicholas, Life Without Parole for Juvenile Offenders: Public Sentiments (October 29, 2016). Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 2017, Vol. 23, No. 1, 96-104. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2863216

Jennifer Gongola (Contact Author)

University of California, Irvine ( email )

Campus Drive
Irvine, CA 62697-3125
United States

Daniel A. Krauss

Claremont McKenna College - Department of Psychology ( email )

850 Columbia Ave
Claremont, CA 91711
United States
909-607-8504 (Phone)
909-621-8419 (Fax)

Nicholas Scurich

University of California, Irvine ( email )

Campus Drive
Irvine, CA 62697-3125
United States

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