Public attitudes about the culpability and punishment of young offenders

Behav Sci Law. 2006;24(6):815-32. doi: 10.1002/bsl.727.


Opinions of 789 community adults were individually assessed, using a video-clip of an actual armed robbery and other measures, to determine whether attitudes toward the culpability and appropriate punishment of young offenders were linked to offenders' age, race, and physical appearance. Three major findings emerged: (1) community adults endorse the view that criminal choices of young offenders are influenced by their developmental immaturity and attribute more responsibility for the criminal act as the actor gets older; (2) the public has a relatively strong preference for differential treatment of juvenile and adult offenders; and (3) attitudes about culpability and punishment are not influenced by the culprit's race, physical maturity, or appearance of "toughness." Indications that punitive public opinion toward youth crime may be changing and implications for juvenile justice policy of the study's findings are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Black People / psychology
  • Child
  • Female
  • Guilt*
  • Humans
  • Juvenile Delinquency / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Juvenile Delinquency / psychology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Public Opinion*
  • Punishment*
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Responsibility
  • Theft / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Theft / psychology
  • White People / psychology