Bringing about Penal Climate Change: The Role of Social and Political Trust and of Perceptions about the Aims for Punishment in Lowering the Temperature of Punitiveness

  • Mari-Liis Sööt
  • Kadri Rootalu
Keywords: Punitiveness, aims in punishment, social trust, political trust


 The paper presents a study demonstrating that social and political trust are good predictors of punitive attitudes. People who have low generalised social trust and low political trust would impose longer sentences on offenders. Awareness of the aims behind punishment is a strong predictor of systematically severe punitive attitudes – those for whom the aims for punishment revolve around the protection of society (rather than focusing on reforming the offender) are more punitive. The study indicates that penal attitudes are best altered in a trusting environment, and that attempts to achieve a shift away from harsh ones should be targeted principally at the most punitively minded groups in the relevant society. The assumption is that in an environment where penal attitudes towards offenders are milder, major changes in crime policy such as introduction of individualised penalties, reduction in prison terms and population would be more easily achieved.