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Public and Judicial Attitudes to Punishment in Switzerland (From Changing Attitudes to Punishment: Public Opinion, Crime and Justice, P 115-127, 2002, Julian V. Roberts, and Mike Hough, eds., -- See NCJ-199891)

NCJ Number
Andre Kuhn
Date Published
This chapter discusses whether the extent to which the severity of the sanctions imposed by judges is consistent with the desires of the public in Switzerland.
Four scenarios were created containing all the information necessary to impose a sentence. A representative sample of 654 Swiss judges and a representative sample of the Swiss population (606 people) were then asked to impose a sentence on the 4 offenders. Four hypotheses were tested: (1) whether public and judicial attitudes to punishment varied according to gender; (2) whether attitudes to punishment varied according to age; (3) whether attitudes to punishment varied from one part of the country to another; and (4) whether public attitudes to punishment were more punitive than the judicial opinions. Findings show that no differences between male and female judges emerged with respect to the sanctions. Age did not significantly influence the sentences delivered by the judges. The responses of the judges revealed a high degree of homogeneity. Judges and the public seemed to agree on the high importance of rehabilitation and punishment, and the low importance of the satisfaction of the victim as a goal of sentencing. Judges assigned more importance to specific deterrence, whereas the public significantly preferred incapacitation. In terms of preferred average prison terms for specific cases, the Swiss public was more punitive than their judges. This finding reflects a skewing of the average by a small proportion of highly punitive respondents; the majority of respondents actually proposed sentences that were more lenient than those of the judges. Public attitudes to punishment varied according to the degree of knowledge of the criminal justice system; the more ignorant of the judiciary, the more punitive people were. A change in public attitudes to punishment could be obtained by changing the small group of highly punitive people. This target group seems to live in large cities, be economically and educationally disadvantaged, and relatively uninterested in politics. 4 tables, 22 notes, 35 references