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Specifying Public Support for Rehabilitation: A Factorial Survey Approach

NCJ Number
Date Published
249 pages
Several researchers have made significant advances in identifying factors that shape attitudes toward the treatment of offenders, but these factors have often been examined in isolation without considering contextual features that likely influence public opinion; this research study examined conditions under which public support for rehabilitation in Ohio varied.
Data for the study were collected through a mail survey of Ohio residents. Items included in the questionnaire assessed demographic, experiential, and attitudinal information on each respondent. To assess the potential influence of offender, offense, and treatment characteristics on support for rehabilitation, several variables were combined to create a factorial vignette. This method allowed the researcher to determine independent effects of each factor on public support for rehabilitation. Respondents largely supported rehabilitation for the offender described in the vignette. Assessing more global attitudes, a substantial minority of respondents believed rehabilitation should be the main emphasis in most prisons. Further, support for correctional treatment was substantial across 10 items that asked about particular rehabilitation policies. Additional analysis of the vignettes revealed few correlates of public support for treatment. Age and adherence to a doctrine of forgiving sinners were positively related to public support for rehabilitation. Conversely, conservatism and belief in a vengeful God were negatively related to public support. Public support for treatment likewise was reduced when the vignette described an offender who had committed a more harmful offense, had a more serious prior record, had a serious drug habit, or was sentenced to intensive supervision probation. These variables, however, were able to explain only 18 percent of the variations in public attitudes toward rehabilitation. Implications of the findings for policy and future research are discussed. Appendixes contain the cover letter to respondents, the distribution of vignette characteristics, the crime seriousness questionnaire, a correlation matrix, and descriptive statistics. References, tables, and figures

Date Published: January 1, 1997