Predicting Punitive Attitudes in Australia

Leo Roberts, David Indermaur

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32 Citations (Scopus)


Across the English-speaking western world there has been much concern with the so-called 'punitive turn' in sentencing policy and the resulting steep increases in the use of imprisonment. Much commentary has assumed this is the result of growing public dissatisfaction and demand for more punishment. However, in Australia, results from public opinion surveys conducted over the past 20 years indicate that public demand for punishment or 'punitiveness' is stable or declining (Indermaur & Roberts, 2005). To understand public punitiveness in Australia better we examine some of the demographic and attitudinal factor's associated with it. Sequential multiple regression is used to analyse recent survey data. The results reveal that demographic factors, political orientation, religious attendance and media exposure are weak to moderate predictors of punitive attitudes. The strongest predictors of punitiveness are criminal justice knowledge and attitudes, suggesting there is a strong constellation of beliefs about crime and justice that coalesce, and are only partially influenced by demographic factors, political orientation, religious attendance and media use. It is people's knowledge and beliefs of crime and the criminal justice system that best predict punitive attitudes, and thus provide the best insight into how to address public dissatisfaction and calls for harsher sentencing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)56-64
JournalPsychiatry, Psychology and Law
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2007


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