Once a Criminal, Always a Criminal?: ‘Redeemability’ and the Psychology of Punitive Public Attitudes

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Several studies have sought to link punitive public attitudes to attribution style and/or lay theories of crime. This research finds that those who believe criminal acts are the result of freely chosen and willful behavior are more likely to be punitive than those who feel crime is the result of external circumstances and constraints. These analyses focus on only one dimension of attributions: locus of control (internal/external). In this analysis, we include a second dimension, thought to be a better predictor of attitudes in social psychological research: stability/instability. In addition to measuring lay theories of crime causation, we also test for “belief in redeemability” (or beliefs about the ability of deviants to change their ways). Our hypothesis is that this other dimension of personal attributions (stability/instability) may be as critical in explaining support for highly punitive criminal justice policies as beliefs about criminal responsibility. We find evidence supportive of this model in an analysis of data from postal survey of residents of six areas in England.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7-24
Number of pages18
JournalEuropean Journal on Criminal Policy and Research
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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