American Journal of Criminal Justice

, Volume 37, Issue 4, pp 630–646 | Cite as

Sometimes Ignorance is Bliss: Investigating Citizen Perceptions of the Certainty and Severity of Punishment

  • Alex R. Piquero
  • Nicole Leeper Piquero
  • Marc Gertz
  • Jake Bratton
  • Thomas A. Loughran
Article

Abstract

Deterrence lies at the heart of the criminal justice system and policy. There is a lack of information on citizen’s perceptions regarding a critical element of the deterrence process as it manifests through the communication of sanction threats. This study uses data from over 400 adults to examine their knowledge regarding the probability of detection and the average punishments for DUI, and also assesses the contribution of demographic and theoretical variables in predicting perceptions of detection probabilities and punishment estimates. Results show that persons over-estimate the likelihood of detection and provide higher estimates for average sentence lengths, but very few variables predict deterrence perceptions. An investigation of the resetting effect shows that persons tend to lower the estimated likelihood of punishment after experiencing a punishment. Deterrence may work better if researchers and policy officials understand what influences these perceptions and how they may be modified.

Keywords

Deterrence Punishment Attitudes Policy 

References

  1. American Association for Public Opinion Research. (2008). Standard definitions: Final dispositions of case codes and outcome rates for surveys. Ann Arbor: AAPOR.Google Scholar
  2. Andeneas, J. (1974). Punishment and deterrence. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  3. Anwar, S., & Loughran, T. A. (2011). Testing a Bayesian updating model of deterrence among serious juvenile offenders. Criminology, 49, 667–698.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bachman, R., Paternoster, R., & Ward, S. (1992). The rationality of sexual offending: Testing a deterrence/rational choice conception of sexual assault. Law & Society Review, 26, 343–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Beccaria, C. [(1764) 1985]. On crimes and punishments. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  6. Beitel, G. A., Sharp, M. C., & Glauz, W. D. (2000). Probability of arrest while driving under the influence of alcohol. Injury Prevention, 6, 158–161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bentham, J. [(1789) 1970]. An introduction to the principles of morals and legislation. Darien, CT: Hafner Publishing.Google Scholar
  8. Carmichael, S., Langton, L., Leuking, G., Reitzel, J., & Piquero, A. (2005). Do the experiential and deterrent effect operate differently across gender? Journal of Criminal Justice, 33, 267–276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cullen, F. T., Fisher, B. S., & Applegate, B. (2000). Public opinion about punishment and corrections. In M. Tonry (Ed.), Public opinion about punishment and corrections, Crime and justice: A review of research, volume 27 (pp. 1–79). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  10. Decker, S. H., Wright, R., & Logie, R. (1993). Perceptual deterrence among active residential burglars: A research note. Criminology, 31, 135–179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Erickson, M. L., & Gibbs, J. P. (1978). Objective and perceptual properties of legal punishment and the deterrence doctrine. Social Problems, 25, 253–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Fischhoff, B., & Bruine de Bruin, W. (1999). Fifty-fifty = 50%? Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 12, 149–163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Horney, J., & Marshall, I. H. (1992). Risk perceptions among serious offenders: The role of crime and punishment. Criminology, 30, 575–594.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Kennedy, D. M. (2009). Deterrence and crime prevention: Revisiting the prospect of sanction. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  15. Kish, L. (1965). Survey sampling. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  16. Kleck, G., Sever, B., Li, S., & Gertz, M. (2005). The missing link in general deterrence research. Criminology, 43, 623–660.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Lochner, L. (2007). Individual perceptions of the criminal justice system. The American Economic Review, 97, 444–460.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Loughran, T. A., Piquero, A. R., Fagan, J., & Mulvey, E. P. (in press). Differential deterrence: Studying heterogeneity and changes in perceptual deterrence among serious youthful offenders. Crime & Delinquency, forthcoming.Google Scholar
  19. Matsueda, R. L., Kreager, D. A., & Huizinga, D. (2006). Deterring delinquents: A rational choice model of theft and violence. American Sociological Review, 71, 95–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Maxfield, M. G., & Babbie, E. R. (2010). Research methods for criminal justice and criminology. Florence: Cengage.Google Scholar
  21. Nagin, D. S. (1998). Criminal deterrence research at the outset of the twenty-first century. In M. Tonry (Ed.), Crime and justice: A review of research, volume 23 (pp. 1–42). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  22. Nagin, D. S., & Paternoster, R. (1993). Enduring individual differences and rational choice theories of crime. Law and Society Review, 27, 467–496.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Piquero, A. R., Paternoster, R., Pogarsky, G., & Loughran, T. (2011). Elaborating the individual difference component in deterrence theory. Annual Review of Law and Social Science, forthcoming.Google Scholar
  24. Piquero, A. R., & Rengert, G. F. (1999). Studying deterrence with active residential burglars. Justice Quarterly, 16, 451–471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Piquero, A. R., & Tibbetts, S. G. (1996). Specifying the direct and indirect effects of low self-control and situational factors in offenders’ decision making: Toward a more complete model of rational offending. Justice Quarterly, 13, 481–510.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Pogarsky, G. (2002). Identifying deterrable offenders: Implications for deterrence research. Justice Quarterly, 19, 431–452.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Pogarsky, G., & Piquero, A. R. (2003). Why may punishment encourage offending and lower perceived sanction threats? Investigating the resetting and selection explanations. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 40, 95–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Pogarsky, G., Piquero, A. R., & Paternoster, R. (2004). Modeling change in perceptions about sanction threats: The neglected linkage in deterrence theory. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 20, 343–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Pratt, T. C., Cullen, F. T., Blevins, K. R., Daigle, L. E., & Madensen, T. D. (2006). The empirical status of deterrence theory: A meta-analysis. In F. T. Cullen, J. P. Wright, & K. R. Blevins (Eds.), Taking stock: The status of criminological theory—Advances in criminological theory (pp, Vol. 15, pp. 367–395). New Brunswick: Transactions Publishers.Google Scholar
  30. Roberts, J. V., & Hough, M. (2005). Understanding public attitudes to criminal justice. Maidenhead: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Saltzman, L., Paternoster, R., Waldo, G., & Chiricos, T. (1983). Perceived risk and social control: Do sanctions really deter? Law and Society Review, 17, 457–479.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Sherman, L. W. (1992). Policing domestic violence. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  33. Stafford, M. C., & Warr, M. (1993). A reconceptualization of general and specific deterrence. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 30, 123–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Tourangeau, R. (2004). Survey research and societal change. Annual Review of Psychology, 55, 775–802.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Tuckell, P., & O’Neill, H. (2002). The vanishing respondent in telephone surveys. Journal of Advertising Research, 42, 26–48.Google Scholar
  36. Tyler, T. (1990). Why people obey the law. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  37. United States Sentencing Commission. (2007). U.S. sentencing commission—Fiscal year 2007 (Table 13 and Appendix A). http://www.ussc.gov/ANNRPT/2007/Table13.pdf (accessed April 12, 2010).
  38. Waldo, G., & Chiricos, T. (1972). Perceived penal sanction and self-reported criminality. Social Problems, 19, 522–540.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Zimring, F. E., & Hawkins, G. J. (1973). Deterrence: The legal threat of crime control. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Southern Criminal Justice Association 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alex R. Piquero
    • 1
  • Nicole Leeper Piquero
    • 1
  • Marc Gertz
    • 2
  • Jake Bratton
    • 2
  • Thomas A. Loughran
    • 3
  1. 1.Program in Criminology, EPPSUniversity of Texas at DallasRichardsonUSA
  2. 2.College of Criminology and Criminal JusticeFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA
  3. 3.Department of Criminology and Criminal JusticeUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA

Personalised recommendations