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

  • Shadd Maruna
  • Anna King


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.


Attribution theory Public opinion Punitiveness Redemption Reentry 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice, School of LawQueen’s University BelfastBelfastUnited Kingdom
  2. 2.Rutgers’s UniversityNew BrunswickUSA

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