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What Punishes? Inmates Rank The Severity of Prison vs. Intermediate Sanctions

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 1994
6 pages
Results of a study of offender perceptions of sanction severity are discussed.
This article presents the results of an exploratory study involving an instrument and methodology for measuring offender perception of sanction severity. The study collected data concerning how inmates rank the severity of criminal sanctions and which sanctions are judged equivalent in punitiveness; what background characteristics are associated with variations in the perception of sanction severity; and how inmates rank the difficulty of probation/parole conditions, and how this affects their ranking of sanctions. This research attempted to build upon prior research by adding the newer intermediate sanctions to the survey and including both magnitude estimation and rank ordering scaling techniques. Criteria used to identify the sample population was the same as that outlined by the Minnesota Legislature in deciding which inmates qualified for the State's Intensive Community Supervision program. Among other characteristics, the sample of inmates was 50 percent white, and the majority of nonwhites were Afro- American; the average age at the time of the current offense was 26 years. The interview of each inmate was divided into four sections: the Magnitude Estimation Task, offender background interview, the ranking of probation conditions, and a rank ordering task. Results indicate that it is no longer necessary to equate criminal punishment solely with prison. The balance of sanctions between probation and prison appears to have shifted, and at some level of intensity and length, intensive probation is the more dreaded penalty. The authors briefly discuss research and policy implications of the study's results. References

Date Published: January 1, 1994