Direct correspondence information to James D. Unnever, Department of Criminology, University of South Florida-Sarasota, 8350 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL 34243 (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) or Francis T. Cullen, School of Criminal Justice, University of Cincinnati, P.O. Box 210389, Cincinnati, OH 45221 (e-mail: email@example.com).
THE SOCIAL SOURCES OF AMERICANS' PUNITIVENESS: A TEST OF THREE COMPETING MODELS*
Article first published online: 26 FEB 2010
© 2010 American Society of Criminology
Volume 48, Issue 1, pages 99–129, February 2010
How to Cite
UNNEVER, J. D. and CULLEN, F. T. (2010), THE SOCIAL SOURCES OF AMERICANS' PUNITIVENESS: A TEST OF THREE COMPETING MODELS. Criminology, 48: 99–129. doi: 10.1111/j.1745-9125.2010.00181.x
- Issue published online: 26 FEB 2010
- Article first published online: 26 FEB 2010
- public opinion;
- theories of punitiveness;
- racial animus;
- crime-control policy
The sustained movement to “get tough” on crime, especially through mass imprisonment, has prompted several prominent efforts to explain the public's harshness toward crime. From the extant literature, we demarcate the following three competing theories of public punitiveness: the escalating crime-distrust model, the moral decline model, and the racial animus model. Controlling for other known predictors of crime-related opinions, we test the explanatory power of these perspectives to account for support for the death penalty and for a punitive crime-control approach. Our analysis of a national sample of respondents surveyed in the 2000 National Election Study reveals partial support for each model. Racial animus, however, seems to exert the most consistent effect on public sentiments. This finding suggests that racial resentments are inextricably entwined in public punitiveness and thus should be incorporated into any complete theory of this phenomenon.