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The Public's Sense of Justice in Sweden - a Smorgasbord of Opinions
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Criminology.
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 [en]
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: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-92901ISBN: 978-91-7447-736-8 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-92901DiVA: diva2:643158
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
List of papers
1. Public Opinion on Appropriate Sentences - which Public, which Opinion?
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Public Opinion on Appropriate Sentences - which Public, which Opinion?
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.

Keyword
Appropriate sentences, Disparity, Public opinion, Representativeness, Survey results
National Category
Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)
Research subject
Criminology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-88701 (URN)10.1007/s10610-012-9176-0 (DOI)000314862400003 ()
Note

AuthorCount:1;

Available from: 2013-03-25 Created: 2013-03-25 Last updated: 2017-12-06Bibliographically approved
2. Contradictory Expectations on Society's Reaction to Crime: A Qualitative Study of How People View the Objectives of Society's Reaction to Crime and How These Objectives Can Be Fulfilled
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Contradictory Expectations on Society's Reaction to Crime: A Qualitative Study of How People View the Objectives of Society's Reaction to Crime and How These Objectives Can Be Fulfilled
(English)In: Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention, ISSN 1404-3858, E-ISSN 1651-2340Article in journal (Refereed) Accepted
Abstract [en]

The intention of this study was to develop an understanding of the views of the public on, first, what the objective(s) of society’s reaction to crime should be, and second, how different types of sanctions are perceived as being able to fulfill these objectives. A thematic analysis was conducted on the basis of transcripts of group interviews. The participants argued that society’s reaction should signal condemnation of the crime and at the same time be beneficial in relation to the re-socialisation of the offender. Sanctions that were perceived to fulfill the signaling of condemnation, i.e. tangible custodial sanctions, were described as being counterproductive in relation to the resocialisation of the offender. On the other hand, the signal of caring for the offender was perceived as having a neutralizing effect on the signal of condemnation. For the objective of society’s reaction to be fulfilled it thus has to give the illusion of being tangible and harsh but at the same time, in reality, must serve as an effective, lasting deterrent to the offender. It is suggested that the contradictions and tensions surrounding the objectives of society’s reaction to crime, and the issue of how these contradictions might be considered when framing crime policy, should be opened up as a matter for discussion in the public debate.

Keyword
Society's reaction to crime, public opinion, punishment, crime, Scandinavia, Sweden
National Category
Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)
Research subject
Criminology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-92904 (URN)
Available from: 2013-08-26 Created: 2013-08-26 Last updated: 2017-12-06Bibliographically approved
3. More Sanctions - Less Prison?: A Research Note on the Severity of Sanctions Proposed by Survey Participants and how it is Affected by the Option to Combine a Prison Term with Other Sanctions
Open this publication in new window or tab >>More Sanctions - Less Prison?: A Research Note on the Severity of Sanctions Proposed by Survey Participants and how it is Affected by the Option to Combine a Prison Term with Other Sanctions
2014 (English)In: European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, ISSN 0928-1371, E-ISSN 1572-9869, Vol. 20, no 1, 121-136 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Public opinion has come to be given an increasingly important role in the crime policy debate of western countries. The task of problematising different pictures that emerges from different studies of public opinion on appropriate sentences thus becomes an important task. In this article the question is whether survey respondents, in their choice of reactions to crime, tend to propose shorter prison sentences when they combine the prison term with other measures? If so, different response instructions can lead to different conclusions as to what survey participants consider to be appropriate sentences. Earlier research points at such tendencies to some extent. In order to examine this question, two comparisons will be made. In the first, survey respondents who chose to combine a prison sentence with other measures is compared with those who chose to propose a prison sentence as the only sanction. In the second, participant who were instructed to only propose a single sanction will be compared with those who were given the opportunity to combine two sanctions. Both comparisons are made with regard to the lengths of the proposed prison sentences. No systematic differences emerge. The correlation between the length of prison term proposed and the choice, or opportunity given, to combine the prison term with other measures varies, for example, across the different offences examined. The choice of appropriate reactions to crime is based on a more advanced deliberation than whether different sanctions may be combined.

Keyword
Appropriate sentences, Public opinion, Response instructions
National Category
Law and Society
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-102279 (URN)10.1007/s10610-013-9215-5 (DOI)000332015600006 ()
Note

AuthorCount:1;

Available from: 2014-04-04 Created: 2014-03-31 Last updated: 2017-12-05Bibliographically approved

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