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Moral concerns, criminal punishment, and whether offenders in general or individual offenders are being considered [2019]

Public opinion can play a role in shaping punishment policies. A problem can arise, however, in that public opinion about appropriate punishments may vary depending on whether offenders in general or individual offenders are being considered. It has been argued that, for offenders in general, the public is concerned with protecting the social group at large, while for individual offenders, public attention is directed more toward the individual offender. However, this proposition has not been thoroughly tested. In 3 studies, participants rated their support for 3 punishment goals: proportional retribution, deterrence, and incapacitation. Participants also rated the personal importance of 5 different moral concerns from the field of moral psychology: 3 group-level moral concerns and 2 individual-level concerns. The results show that the group-level moral concerns predicted support for the punishment goals more strongly when offenders in general were being considered than when individual offenders were being considered. In contrast, the individual-level moral concerns predicted support for the punishment goals more strongly when individual offenders were being considered than when offenders in general were being considered. Finally, support for incapacitation, in particular, changed between conditions and was lower when individual offenders were being considered.

Brubacher, M. R.
Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 25(1), 2019
DOI
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