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Volume 14 Issue 1

Implicit Theories of Criminal Behavior: Fostering Public Support for Ex-offender Community Reentry

Rade, C.B., Desmarais, S.L., Burnett, J.L.

Ex-offenders face many barriers during the process of community reentry, including difficulty obtaining housing or employment. These barriers are often the result of stigma and discrimination that can negatively affect domains of functioning and well-being that are central to successful reintegration. Implicit theory suggests that stigmatizing attitudes may be explained through beliefs regarding the invariable (fixed mindset) or malleable (growth mindset) nature of human attributes. Prior work demonstrated how these mindsets can explain attitudes toward ex-offenders and support for community reentry. In this manuscript, we report on two studies that examined whether attitudes toward ex-offenders and support for their reentry can be influenced through a brief mindset-based persuasive reading. In Study 1, we piloted a brief, experimental manipulation among a student sample (n = 352) to induce growth mindsets regarding criminal behavior to foster positive attitudes toward ex-offenders and their reentry. In Study 2, we replicated the first study in a community-based sample (n = 451) and tested ex-offender race as a potential moderator. Mediation analyses demonstrated a causal pathway between mindset condition, attitudes toward ex-offenders, and support for reentry, and provided empirical evidence that the mindset-based experimental manipulation can foster growth mindsets and support for ex-offender community reentry, regardless of ex-offender race. Findings present directions for developing a potentially low-cost and time-effective strategy that can be disseminated easily through online or other media platforms, and tailored to target specific barriers to reentry. Further research is needed to establish the persistence of effects on attitudinal changes over time.

Not Guilty By Reason of Brain Injury: Perceptions of Guilt and Sentencing

St. Pierre, M.E., Parente, R.

The current study investigated whether educating mock jurors about the post-injury consequences resulting from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) influenced their perceptions of morality, guilt, and sentencing in cases where the defendant has sustained a TBI. Participants read either an educational brochure about jury duty or a brochure about brain injury, and were then presented a mock trial transcript about either a defendant with severe, mild or no TBI on trial from the crime of voluntary manslaughter. Mock jurors who read the brochure about brain injury perceived the defendant less guilty and most deserving of a rehabilitation sentence. The results suggest that the mock jurors considered the brain injury and the post-injury consequences when deciding the perceived guilt and punishment of the crime. Thus, defense attorneys should provide extensive information about mental disorders to assure the most appropriate verdict is determined.

The Effects of Religion and Stereotype Content on Verdicts and Sentence Severity When Defending Terror Charges

Frings, D., Rice, K., Albery, I.P.

School of Applied Sciences, Division of Psychology, London South Bank University Little evidence exists to test if a defendant's religion affects their verdict outcome or sentencing. The current study addresses this question and also tests the role of stereotype content as an explanatory variable. Participants (n=141) were presented with crimes which were either stereotypical of Muslims or not. Participants viewed details of a case resulting in either a terror or a theft charge, with a Muslim, Christian or Atheist suspect. Both being a Muslim and defending terror crimes led to more frequent guilty verdicts and more severe sentences. Muslims were perceived as more cold and competent. The colder and more competent suspects were perceived, the more likely they were to be found guilty and the more severe the sentence. Warm/cold evaluations mediated the effect of religion. These findings suggest that Muslim terror defendants may be affected by systematic bias in trials and that this may be driven by the stereotypes content.

Experience and Outcomes of a Theatre Intervention for Youth on Probation and their University Peers

Fullcharge, A., Sharkey, J.D.

This study examined the qualitative impact of a unique theatrical partnership, The Odyssey Project, between a university and a probation camp facility for boys. Seven youths who committed criminal offenses and seven university students were brought together as peers and mentored daily by university faculty for six weeks. They participated in structured theatrical activities that culminated in a public performance of an adaptation of the Homeric epic poem The Odyssey. Observations, interviews, and questionnaires investigated participants' experiences and interpretations of class activities including why they joined, how they interpreted their experiences, and what impact the program had on them. Results suggest that a psychologically safe space was created by clear expectations and boundaries, positive regard shown to participants, and distress-reducing mindfulness activities, which allowed the participants to feel comfortable enough to share and be vulnerable. Program processes and outcomes are discussed along with limitations and future directions.

Do Memory-focused Jury Instructions Moderate the Influence of Eyewitness Word Choice?

Kurinec, C.A., Weaver III, C.A.

Some ways of describing an eyewitness event are likely to be more effective than others. We investigated how one such factor - linguistic concreteness - influenced juror decision making. Jurors who received testimony with more concrete language (e.g., he was twitching nervously versus a nervous, twitchy guy) were more likely to vote guilty and rate the eyewitness as credible (Study 1). This effect was mitigated when jurors received additional information prior to rendering a verdict; specifically, memory-focused jury instructions made jurors less likely to vote guilty or find the eyewitness credible (Study 2). Overall, these results suggest concrete language is more persuasive to jurors but can be overcome by the presentation of additional information, particularly that which increases skepticism of eyewitness evidence.