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Public Opinion on Appropriate Sentences - which Public, which Opinion?
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Criminology.
2013 (English)In: European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, ISSN 0928-1371, E-ISSN 1572-9869, Vol. 19, no 1, 31-45 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Since the collapse of the treatment ideology, public opinion has assumed an increasingly central role as a basis for legitimising current crime policy. It is therefore important to be able to capture and describe the public's views on penal sanctions. Assessments of public opinion regarding appropriate sanctioning levels are largely made on the basis of different types of survey. The problems associated with how such surveys should be implemented in order to produce valid results have been discussed at length. The issue of how the results should be presented in order to provide a representative picture of public opinion have more rarely been explicitly problematized however. This article examines the question of how large a proportion, and which segments, of the public are represented in different descriptions of public opinion that can be produced based on survey results. The issue is examined on the basis of a national Swedish postal survey, in which the respondents were asked to state which sanction should be awarded in relation to six crimes described in the form of vignettes. The survey shows that public opinion on appropriate sanctioning levels is very varied. Summarizing public opinion is thus not a straightforward task. Different descriptions that are similarly representative in relation to one another lead to different conclusions as to what public opinion views as appropriate sanctioning levels. Routine references to public opinion are thus quite arbitrary unless those who refer to a certain description of public opinion also justify why this particular description is relevant.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2013. Vol. 19, no 1, 31-45 p.
Keyword [en]
Appropriate sentences, Disparity, Public opinion, Representativeness, Survey results
National Category
Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)
Research subject
Criminology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-88701DOI: 10.1007/s10610-012-9176-0ISI: 000314862400003OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-88701DiVA: diva2:612878
Note

AuthorCount:1;

Available from: 2013-03-25 Created: 2013-03-25 Last updated: 2017-12-06Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. The Public's Sense of Justice in Sweden - a Smorgasbord of Opinions
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The Public's Sense of Justice in Sweden - a Smorgasbord of Opinions
2013 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The public’s views on what constitute appropriate reactions to crime, have come to assume an increasingly central position in the crime policy rhetoric of western countries. In Sweden this manifests itself in recurrent referrals to the public’s sense of justice. Any clear definitions of what the public’s sense of justice is, how it is expressed and how it can be read are however absent from these referrals.

In this thesis the use of referrals to the public’s sense of justice as a legitimizing ground for penal legislation is problematized from an empirical perspective. Paper I points out the substantial variation found in the public’s view on what constitutes appropriate sentences. According to Paper II society’s reactions to crime are expected to fulfill different, and often contradictory, objectives simultaneously. Paper III also points to the assumption that views on what constitutes appropriate sentences are based on deliberations where different dimensions of society’s reaction are weighed against each other.

The public’s sense of justice, thus, consists of diverse, variable and complex opinions. Referrals to it as a legitimizing ground for changes in penal legislation becomes a matter of choice between whose and which opinion it is that should be emphasized. For this choice to be perceived as legitimate it should not be made without at the same time motivating it.

If crime policy is to be both knowledge-based and fitted to the public’s sense of justice the public must be given the opportunity to develop an informed and well-grounded sense of justice. Especially since, compared to other political matters, crime policy and its consequences are something that only a small portion of the public comes into direct contact with. The suggestion is that the public criminal policy debate is framed so that it matches the complexity of the public’s sense of justice itself.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Department of Criminology, Stockholm University, 2013. 56 p.
Series
Avhandlingsserie / Kriminologiska institutionen, Stockholms universitet, ISSN 1404-1820 ; 33
Keyword
Public’s sense of justice, public opinion, appropriate sentences, penal legislation, Sweden, Scandinavia, surveys
National Category
Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)
Research subject
Criminology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-92901 (URN)978-91-7447-736-8 (ISBN)
Public defence
2013-09-27, De Geersalen, Geovetenskapens hus, Svante Arrhenius väg 14, Stockholm, 10:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Note

At the time of the doctoral defense, the following papers were unpublished and had a status as follows: Paper 2: Accepted. Paper 3: Accepted.

Available from: 2013-09-05 Created: 2013-08-26 Last updated: 2015-03-05Bibliographically approved

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