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NCJRS Abstract

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NCJ Number: 78209 Find in a Library
Title: Potential for Crime and Knowledge of Legal Sanctions
Journal: Deviant Behavior  Volume:2  Issue:3  Dated:(April-June 1981)  Pages:287-304
Author(s): K R Williams; M L Erickson
Date Published: 1981
Page Count: 18
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: The findings of this study refute the assumption that the knowledge of statutory penalties has a deterring effect, since the subjects shared a lack of knowledge of statutory maximum prison sentences for 19 crime types.
Abstract: The data were collected by interviewing adults of 2,400 residences in Tucson, Ariz., during 1974 and 1975. Each respondent was asked questions about only four criminal offenses. The possible relevance of knowledge of statutory penalties for deterrence was explored by determining whether the accuracy of individual perceptions of statutory maximum prison sentences for 19 types of crimes differed significantly by sex, age, race-ethnicity, and education. The findings showed substantially more evidence of similarity than difference in the accuracy of perceived maximum prison sentences. This shows that respondents shared a lack of knowledge about those sentences. Apparently the subjects relied on shared beliefs that serious crimes ought to be punished severely, and that the criminal code reflected that belief. Regression analysis showed that individual perceptions of statutory maximum prison sentences and individual preferences for those sentences were significantly related from one type of crime to the next, even though social-demographic variables were statistically controlled. To develop a theory of deterrence that would assert the conditions under which legal sanctions would deter from crime, independent effects of legal sanctions should be distinguished from extralegal sanctions. Prior research, statistical data, and about 25 references are included.
Index Term(s): Deterrence; Deterrence effectiveness; Punishment; Surveys
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