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The effects of psychiatric and “biological” labels on lay sentencing and punishment decisions

Abstract

Objectives

This research, using focal concerns perspective on sentencing, examines how and why psychiatric labels, and having diagnoses biologically “labeled,” affect sentencing beliefs. Dimensions of public stigma toward psychiatric illnesses are hypothesized to mediate sentencing views.

Methods

This is a 2 × 2 partially-crossed, between-subjects multifactorial experiment with a lay sample (n= 1213), presenting mediation analyses.

Results

Four psychiatric labels (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, behavioral-variant Frontotemporal Dementia, High Functioning Autism, Borderline Intellectual Disability) led to significant beneficial effects on sentencing (less prison/rehabilitation support) as mediated by decreased stigmatization regarding lack of treatability, social acceptance, and personal responsibility. One biological “label” (Pedophilic Disorder) was mediated by decreased stigmatization (dangerousness), resulting in less prison support.

Conclusions

Data support effects of psychiatric labeling on sentencing under focal concerns. As no psychiatric labels resulted in increased discriminatory sentencing and, instead, led to decreased discriminatory sentencing behavior, psychiatric labeling may reduce punitiveness and bolster non-punitive sentencing beliefs. Biological labeling, aside from Pedophilic Disorder, may not affect sentencing.

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Notes

  1. (1) ADHD (assault against an adult male), (2) FAS (assault against adult male), (3) Addictive Disorder (assault against adult male), (4) Pedophilic Disorder (sexual assault against female child), (5) HFA (sexual assault against adult female), (6) bvFTD (sexual assault against adult female), (7) OCD (assault against adult male), (8) PTSD (assault against adult male), (9) Borderline ID (assault against adult male), (10) APD (assault against adult male).

  2. Results of main effects of demographic variables on sentencing views are available upon request.

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Acknowledgements

Research supported by American Psychology-Law Society.

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Correspondence to Colleen M. Berryessa.

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Berryessa, C.M. The effects of psychiatric and “biological” labels on lay sentencing and punishment decisions. J Exp Criminol 14, 241–256 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11292-018-9322-x

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11292-018-9322-x

Keywords

  • Labeling
  • Stigmatization
  • Psychiatric illnesses
  • Biology
  • Sentencing
  • Focal concerns