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Justice Policy Journal - Volume 8, Number 2 - Fall 2011

(ISSN 1530-3012)


From the editor

By Elizabeth Brown, Ph.D. and Randall G. Shelden, M.A., Ph.D.

From the Editors

Once again it is time for another issue of Justice Policy Journal. As always this issue includes a rather diverse group of articles that give readers a glimpse of several different policy issues that include child abductions, youthful offenders, jurors on death penalty cases, violence at school and treatment programs for sex offenders.

In the first article Justine Taylor, Danielle Boisvert, Barbara Sims, and Carl Garver provide us with a detailed analysis of how the media portrays a distorted image of child abduction, focusing mostly on the exceptional cases of abductions by nonfamily members and strangers. As a result of media attention on these cases fear is generated within the general public and lawmakers, as always, respond with legislation (which some call "legislation by anecdote") the appeases the public but ignores the most common type of abduction, the family abduction.  The authors of this study conducted a content analysis of newspaper articles taken from two sources: LexisNexis Academic and the Second National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children (NISMART-2). Not surprisingly, the media was more likely to report on nonfamily abductions and stereotypical kidnappings, while under-reporting on family abductions.  The resulting policies address only a small proportion of child abduction victims and omit the majority of them (i.e., family abductions).  

The second article, written by Alan S. Bruce and Theresa A. Severance deals with a unique piece of legislation passed in 1971 in the state of Connecticut that excluded16 and 17 year olds from the jurisdiction of its juvenile justice system. This case study provides a unique glimpse into the legislative process and the resulting changes in social policies that deal with juvenile justice.  Utilizing Ismaili's concept of the "criminal justice policy community" the authors use a social constructionist perspective to examine such an important policy change.  Among other things, the authors found that the legislation was based upon public fears created in part by the media with exaggerated images of the "violent juvenile" offender, rather than upon empirical research. The theme of the "violent juvenile" was generally accepted by two components of  the Ismaili's "criminal justice policy community," namely the "subgovernment" and the "attentive public."  The legislation was also driven by a new social construction of "adult" as one who had reached the age of 16.

In the third article, Jamie L. Flexon explores the negative views of human nature held by potential capital jurors and how such views help determine guilty verdicts in such cases. The author based his study on the theory that there is a relationship between the fear of crime and a negative view of human nature, which is part of "a more general picture of how the world works" which results in a greater likelihood to convict, regardless of a juror's attitude toward the death penalty per se.  Flexon's study used data collected from the 1990 and 1996 National Opinion Research Center's General Social Survey (GSS). Among his key findings were that respondents with lower levels of education were 28% more likely to vote for conviction while those with conservative beliefs were 35% more likely to convict.

The fourth article by Zahra Shekarkhar and Anthony A. Peguero addressed the important issue of Latina students' exposure to violence at school. Based upon data drawn from the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 the authors explore the extent to which Latina and white students had been exposed to four types of violence at school during 2001 and 2002.  These included being physically threatened, being bullied me or picked on me, being hit by someone, and having someone use strong-arm or forceful methods to get money or other things from them. They found that Latinas have relatively less experience with exposure to violence at school than their White American female student counterparts. They also found that misbehaving girls and girls who had more male friends were more likely to be victimized. Also, higher achieving girls were much less likely to be victimized.

Finally, David P. Connor, Heith Copes and Richard Tewksbury explored the perceptions of sex offender treatment programs on the part of incarcerated sex offenders. This study was based on semi-structured interviews with 24 inmates in a medium security prison.  Thus this provides a unique perspective as it is rare for researchers to gain such access into the prison system.  The authors found both negative and positive perceptions.  Among the positive attitudes these offenders believed that treatment provides assistance for them and helps facilitate their own personal transformations, and may even allow early release from prison.  On the other hand, among the negative beliefs were that they were forced to provide detailed confessions about their behaviors, a requirement that they had to repeat the program after they were released, and that there were sanctions for no or poor participation.

Latina Exposure to Violence at School

By Zahra Shekarkhar and Anthony A. Peguero

As a result of the current immigration trend, Latinas are one of the fastest growing segments of the student population in the United States. Although exposure to school violence is known to be detrimental to many facets of girls' development, there is limited research that explores the prevalence of Latina school victimization. Thus, understanding girls' exposure to violence within schools, particularly for Latinas, is imperative. Analyses, which draw from the Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002, indeed suggest some important results. Most notably, Latina immigrant youth have reduced risks of getting hit and being threatened at school but not from strong-arm robbery or bullying. This article also discusses the importance of researching and addressing the violence that young Latinas endure.

Incarcerated Sex Offenders' Perceptions of Prison Sex Offender Treatment Programs

By David P. Connor, Heith Copes, and Richard Tewksbury

Using semi-structured interviews with 24 inmates in one medium security prison, this exploratory study examines sex offenders' perceptions about an institutional sex offender treatment program.  Findings reveal that incarcerated sex offenders have mixed feelings and experiences with treatment, although a majority reports at least some positive perceptions.  Common positive perceptions include a belief that treatment provides assistance, facilitates personal transformations, and may allow for early release.  Negative observations are also common, and they include perceptions regarding compelled disclosures of sex offenses, obligations to repeat treatment in the community, and sanctions for no or poor participation.  Limitations and directions for future sex offender treatment research are discussed.

Fear, Views of Human Nature and the Potential Consequences for Capital Juries

By Jamie L. Flexon

Negative views of human nature held by potential capital jurors have been identified in previous research as fueling conviction proneness.  Although numerous studies have broadened our understanding of conviction proneness, this research leaves open the question of causes and correlates of a negative view of human nature.  Data from the 1990 and 1996 GSS was used in this study in an effort to extend the understanding of juror qualities that lead to conviction proneness.  Existing theory is built upon to test the notion that personal fear of crime leads to a negative view of human nature and this may serve to further bias jury deliberation in death penalty cases.

Creating the Youthful Offender in Connecticut

By Alan S. Bruce and Theresa A. Severance

In 1971 Connecticut passed legislation creating the category of Youthful Offender that excluded16 and 17 year olds from the jurisdiction of its juvenile justice system.  The policy decision was made at a time when other states were extending the jurisdiction of their juvenile justice systems and so provides an interesting case study to help more fully understand the criminal justice policy creation process.  Using Ismaili's (2006) concept of policy community this paper identifies the factors most significant in Connecticut's policy change and in so doing, discusses how the policy community functions to bring about policy change.

An Examination of Media Accounts of Child Abductions in the United States

By Justine Taylor, Danielle Boisvert, Barbara Sims, Carl Garver

The media tends to portray a distorted image of crime to the public, and child abduction incidents are no exception.  Though abduction incidents perpetrated by nonfamily members (nonfamily abductions) and strangers (stereotypical kidnappings) are the rarest type of abduction offenses, they receive the most media attention.  Consequently, a moral panic has resulted in which society believes that children are routinely abducted by individuals unrelated or unknown to them.  Lawmakers have responded to this fear by enacting legislation that addresses these types of incidents, but they have largely ignored the most common type of abduction: the family abduction.  The current study seeks to examine disparities between media depictions and actual incidences of child abductions by conducting a content analysis of newspaper articles drawn from LexisNexis Academic (N= 66).  These accounts are then compared to data from the Second National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children (NISMART-2).  The results revealed that the media was more likely to report on incidents in which children were abducted by nonfamily members (nonfamily abductions) and strangers (stereotypical kidnappings) than would be expected given their actual frequency of occurrence.  Policy implications of these findings are discussed.

Keywords: media, public safety, risk, state policy

Posted in Volume 8

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