Support for Harsh Criminal Sanctions and Criminal Justice Beliefs: A Social Dominance Perspective

Abstract

Much of the criminal justice literature indicates that people’s support for harsh criminal sanctions such as the death penalty is strongly related to their beliefs about deterrence and their beliefs about retribution. In this paper, using social dominance theory as our organizing framework, we expand upon this literature by showing that social dominance orientation (SDO) is also related to support for harsh criminal sanctions, as well as to deterrence and retribution beliefs. In addition, we show that the relationships between SDO, on the one hand, and support for various forms of severe criminal sanctions, on the other, are mediated by deterrence and retribution beliefs.

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Fig. 1.
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Notes

  1. 1.

    Consistent with the view of political conservatism as motivated social cognition (see Jost et al., 2003), we also found that a composite measure of political conservatism was significantly correlated with both SDO (r = 0.38, p < 0.01), and the three deterrence and retribution beliefs (correlations varying between r = 0.14, p < 0.01 and r = 0.20). In addition, political conservatism was found to be correlated with support for the death penalty (r = 0.21, p < 0.01), support for general punitiveness (r = 0.26, p < 0.01), and support for torture (r = 0.14, p < 0.01).

  2. 2.

    For a justification of this procedure, see Hertig (1985).

  3. 3.

    Note that only standardized coefficients are shown in the figure. Within LISREL notation, β-coefficients refer to direct causal relationships among endogenous variables.

  4. 4.

    Note that these indirect effect analyses are essentially equivalent to the results that one would obtain by use of the Sobel Test.

  5. 5.

    The mediational role of retribution between SDO and death penalty support is simply calculated by multiplying the connecting path coefficients (IE = 0.34 × 0.49 = 0.17). Thus, the total indirect effect of SDO on death penalty support is merely: (0.34 × 0.49) + (0.34 × 0.25) + (0.38 × 0.26) = 0.35.

  6. 6.

    Note that in LISREL notation, γ is the symbol used to represent the regression of an endogenous variable upon an exogenous variable, or the direct effect of an exogenous variable on an endogenous variable.

  7. 7.

    For the latest example of this form violence see the details of the James Byrd lynching (http://www.texasnaacp.org/jasper.htm).

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Sidanius, J., Mitchell, M., Haley, H. et al. Support for Harsh Criminal Sanctions and Criminal Justice Beliefs: A Social Dominance Perspective. Soc Just Res 19, 433–449 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11211-006-0026-4

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Keywords

  • death penalty attitudes
  • deterrence
  • retribution
  • social dominance orientation
  • torture.