Punitive attitudes toward criminals: Exploring the relevance of crime salience and economic insecurity

Michael T. Costelloe, Ted Chiricos, Marc Gertz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

149 Scopus citations


This article examines whether and in what ways punitive attitudes toward criminals can be understood as having roots in two hypothesized sources of anxiety in western society. The first is the danger of crime and its salience and the second is economic insecurity. Both have been seen as sources of growing perceptions that the State is failing in its responsibility to provide for citizen's physical safety and economic security. Punitiveness toward criminals is hypothesized by some to be a way to act decisively in a time of relative uncertainty. It also serves to distinguish between the 'undeserving poor' and those who are economically insecure. Interviews with 2250 randomly selected Florida residents provide the data for this study. Our results indicate that crime salience, especially fear and concern about crime consistently predict punitiveness. When economic insecurity is measured in terms of expected circumstances in the near future, it is significantly linked to punitive attitudes among white males, particularly those who are less well educated and earn less income. The results are consistent with some aspects of an 'angry white male' phenomenon, particularly to the extent that those negative sentiments have a racial focus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25-49
Number of pages25
JournalPunishment and Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2009


  • Crime salience
  • Economic insecurity
  • Punitive attitudes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Law


Dive into the research topics of 'Punitive attitudes toward criminals: Exploring the relevance of crime salience and economic insecurity'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this