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Public Opinion About Sentencing and Incarceration

Two contrasting images of the public have emerged from the literature on public attitudes toward sentencing: a punitive public that demands long prison terms and a merciful public that supports community-based sanctions after considering the seriousness of the offense and the perceived character and blameworthiness of the offender. Although politicians and the media insist that the public wants to impose tougher and longer prison sentences, research shows that public views about appropriate sentences are much more complex. For example, although the majority of the public claims courts are too lenient, research using detailed cases consistently finds that the public imposes less severe punishment than judges or sentencing statutes. This disjuncture in attitudes occurs because the public relies on easily recalled violent crimes to answer general ...

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