Type of Document Dissertation Author Costelloe, Michael Author's Email Address Michael.Costelloe@nau.edu URN etd-06242004-133457 Title The Contributions of Crime Salience and Economic Insecurity to Explanations of Punitive Attitudes Toward Crime, Welfare, and Immigration Degree Doctor of Philosophy Department Criminology and Criminal Justice, School of Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title Ted Chiricos Committee Chair David Rasmussen Committee Member Gary Kleck Committee Member Marc Gertz Committee Member Keywords
- Social Control
- Public Opinion
- Economy and Punishment
- Welfare and Immigration Attitudes
Date of Defense 2004-05-21 Availability unrestricted AbstractRooted in the cultural, social, and material circumstances of the last forty years, there appears to have been an increase in the insecurities and anxieties that are being experienced by many in the working and middle class. The source of these insecurities seems to be two pronged. First, an increase in crime rates that began in the 1960s and lasted into the early 1990s elevated concerns about one’s personal safety, as well as the safety and security of one’s family. Though these increases have reversed themselves in recent years, media and political discourse have kept crime a salient issue for the American people. Second, the economic changes that have occurred over the past several decades have created an increasingly insecure workforce, a workforce that has experienced layoffs, downsizings, and reduced and stagnating wages and benefits. That these changes occurred on the heels of a period of increasing prosperity, diminishing inequality, and feelings of relative safety, has only served to cast the more recent circumstances in more dramatic terms.
Economically, the United States has experienced significant changes over the past several decades that have created "insecurities" that are well documented and that are the result of corporate strategies to restore profit margins in the face of expanded world competition. Strategies of disinvestment, deskilling, downsizing, and immersion in the "global economy" has meant the loss of employment or reduced wages for millions of American blue-collar workers and, more recently, white collar employees. In the classic sense described by Emil Durkheim (1895), these rapid changes have forced many people into new economic circumstances, the appropriate boundaries for which are either not yet established or not well understood. In such a condition of anomic uncertainty, it is not uncommon for scapegoats to be created and a willingness to punish "others" engendered. We have seen, for example, these economic changes accompanied by an increase in punitiveness on the part of the criminal justice system. During this time, we have seen the reinstitution and use of the death penalty, we have experienced tremendous increases in incarceration rates, the increased use of juvenile waivers to adult court and we have witnessed an influx of mandatory sentencing polices such as 10-20-life and “three strike” laws. At the same time, popular and political culture appears to have taken a more broadly punitive turn. Resentment against criminals, seems only to be matched by the antipathy directed toward welfare recipients, and immigrants. What criminals, welfare recipients and immigrants may have in common is that in the eyes of some, they are perceived as “getting something for nothing” at a time when so many are either insecure in their positions or working harder for less. Moreover, many may associate these groups with similar populations, namely inner-city minorities. The perception that welfare recipients and immigrants are disproportionately involved in criminal behavior may result in an increase in support for punitive criminal and social policies directed at these groups.
This research, then, explores the possibility that both crime salience and the resentments of those made insecure by labor market changes are mobilizing resources for this increase in punitiveness. Specifically, this study examines whether individual punitive attitudes toward crime, welfare, and immigration are more strongly expressed by those who report greater economic insecurity as well as those for whom crime is a salient issue. The current project also attempts to contextualize these effects by examining to what extent they are more prevalent among members of certain subgroups. For example, is the effect of economic insecurity on punitive attitudes greater for those who may be characterized as objectively vulnerable in terms of their education and income levels? Or, as some have suggested, are these sentiments most commonly held among “angry white males?” It is argued that it is they who are most likely to have perceived a deterioration in what they believed was once a guarantee of economic security and to be in search of scapegoats who can be easily blamed.
The data for this study come from a survey of 2,250 randomly selected adult Florida residents that was conducted between October and December of 1997. Ordinary least squares and logistic regression are used to estimate these effects while controlling for the influence of a number of other theoretically relevant variables. The results show that both crime salience and economic insecurity are clearly not irrelevant predictors of punitive attitudes toward these three social issues.
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