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National Survey on Punishment for Criminal Offenses

NCJ Number
Date Published
November 1987
This study interviewed a representative sample of 1,920 American adults in a telephone survey to determine their attitudes toward the punishment of criminal offenders.

Each respondent was read eight crime vignettes that were combinations of offense, offender, and victim characteristics randomly generated by a computer program in a factorial survey design. For each vignette, the respondent expressed an opinion on the seriousness of the offense, the type and amount of punishment the offender should receive, and the reasons for selecting that particular punishment. The public wants long prison sentences for most crimes, with other sanctions used for minor violations or as additions to imprisonment. The major factors that determine sentence length are offense type and offense seriousness. Other characteristics of the offense and offender have less influence. Special deterrence is the most favored justification for sentencing. Boundary setting (making a public statement that crime will not be tolerated) is the next most popular choice, followed by rehabilitation, desert, general deterrence, incapacitation, morality or religion, and retribution. 25 appended tables and listing of offense scenario dimensions and levels.

Date Published: November 5, 1987