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NCJ Number: 77765 Find in a Library
Title: Effects of Legal Education and Work Experience on Perceptions of Crime Seriousness
Journal: Social Problems  Volume:28  Issue:3  Dated:(February 1981)  Pages:276-289
Author(s): R McCleary; M J O'Neil; T Epperlein; C Jones; R H Gray
Date Published: 1981
Page Count: 14
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: This study examined the crime seriousness perceptions of criminal justice bureaucrats and compared them to results from a sample of citizens to test consensus formation theories based on education and on the salient dimensions of crime.
Abstract: To assess the relative weights of educational and work experience on perceptions of crime seriousness, a survey was administered to 154 respondents representing a sample of attorneys (prosecutors, public defenders, and criminal trial judges) and nonattorneys (probation and parole officers). The questionnaire required a rank-ordering of 14 crimes according to seriousness. A high degree of consensus was found among respondents, attributable mainly to legal education and to common work experience. A high degree of consensus was also evidenced between this sample of criminal justice bureaucrats and an earlier survey of citizens. Overall, both groups seem to agree that the most serious crimes are those against the person, especially crimes of murder, rape, and assault. Patterns of disagreement emerged between the professionals and the general public concerning victimless crime, which the former rated as relatively unimportant while the latter considered them relatively serious. Also, the general public appeared to be more tolerant of violent crimes and of certain crimes involving public trust and public order. The pattern of dissension indicates that while citizens perceive the relative seriousness of a crime in terms of only a few dimensions, criminal justice bureaucrats perceive seriousness in terms of many dimensions. The dissension pattern emerging between the attorneys and nonattorneys indicates disagreement whenever a legalistic factor characterizes the crime; attorneys then use the law to form perceptions of seriousness. Tables are included. The reference list contains 11 entries. The appendix list the crime seriousness rank score from both surveys.
Index Term(s): Attitudes; Crime seriousness measures; Criminal justice education; Legal training; Offense classification; Perception; Public Attitudes/Opinion; Surveys
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