skip navigation


Register for Latest Research

Stay Informed
Register with NCJRS to receive NCJRS's biweekly e-newsletter JUSTINFO and additional periodic emails from NCJRS and the NCJRS federal sponsors that highlight the latest research published or sponsored by the Office of Justice Programs.

NCJRS Abstract

The document referenced below is part of the NCJRS Virtual Library collection. To conduct further searches of the collection, visit the Virtual Library. See the Obtain Documents page for direction on how to access resources online, via mail, through interlibrary loans, or in a local library.


NCJ Number: 76752 Find in a Library
Title: Defendant's Parental Status as Affecting Judges' Behavior - An Experimental Test
Journal: Psychological Reports  Volume:42  Issue:3  Dated:Part 1 (June 1978)  Pages:939-945
Author(s): D J Steffensmeier; G L Faulkner
Date Published: 1978
Page Count: 7
Type: Report (Study/Research)
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: An experimental study in which college students made sentencing decisions for a variety of hypothetical cases was conducted to test the 'Practicality' hypothesis, according to which defendants with children, especially female defendants, would receive preferential treatment in courts.
Abstract: The practicality hypothesis is based on the assumption that most female defendants have young children and that sending a mother to prison would both disrupt family life and impose a child care burden on the community and the father. The present study tested the hypothesis by varying the sex and parental status of the hypothetical defendant. Subjects were 102 male and 74 female undergraduates enrolled in a criminology and penology class at a large eastern university. The subjects were randomly assigned to one of four descriptions of a defendant: a male nonparent, female parent, and female nonparent. Subjects sentenced the defendant with respect to five crimes: shoplifting items worth $250, public drunkenness and disorderly conduct, shooting and killing the spouse following an argument, embezzling $3,000 from the employer, and possession and sale of hard drugs. The 12 potential penalties ranged from no penalty to execution. Results indicated that the defendants' parental status had little bearing on the sentencing decision but that female defendants were treated more leniently than male defendants. Thus, results provided little support for the practicality hypothesis. However, this finding does not necessarily mean that the defendant's parental status is not considered by the simulated judges. Judges may feel that the children's well-being is being jeopardized by the defendant's actions and may tend to view incarceration of the parent as beneficial for the children. Caution should be exercised in trying to generalize these experimental findings using college students to the actual decisionmaking behavior of judges. One table, two footnotes, and 11 references are provided.
Index Term(s): Comparative analysis; Decisionmaking; Female offenders; Judicial discretion; Sentencing/Sanctions; Sex discrimination; Studies
To cite this abstract, use the following link:

*A link to the full-text document is provided whenever possible. For documents not available online, a link to the publisher's website is provided. Tell us how you use the NCJRS Library and Abstracts Database - send us your feedback.