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Attitudinal Explanation of Biases in the Criminal Justice System: An Empirical Testing of Defensive Attribution Theory

NCJ Number
Crime & Delinquency Volume: 54 Issue: 3 Dated: July 2008 Pages: 457-481
Sergio Herzog
Date Published
July 2008
25 pages
This article discusses the treatment of offenders influenced by extralegal factors, particularly those belonging to disadvanded and so called threating social groups.
Theoretical perspectives, supported by empirical evidence, have consistently argued that the judicial treatment of offenders by criminal justice agents is sometimes biased by extralegal factors, such as offenders' sociodemographic characteristics. According to defensive attribution theory, individuals tend to protect themselves against unfortunate occurrences, such as becoming crime victims, by distorting the victim's role in his or her own victimization; these mechanisms depend on the observer's perceived similarity to the victim. The present study proposes an attitudinal perspective for explaining biases in legal decisions of criminal justice agents, by taking into account the perceived personal similarity between the victims and offenders involved in such situations and the observers. Respondents from an Israeli national sample were asked to evaluate the seriousness of and to suggest the appropriate punishment for hypothetical, multidimensional crime scenarios committed by a variety of offenders against a variety of victims. Overall, the authors findings supported their hypotheses. Their theoretical and practical implications are discussed. (Published Abstract)