Timothy Lawrence, Prairie View A&M University

Parole, Public, and Actor Observer Hypothesis

Abstract: Parole board members are required to make decisions whether or not to release inmates depending on various circumstances including mental health concerns, substance use, age, and behavior while incarcerated. While they are also responsible to thoroughly evaluate the best candidates to release, parole board members often release candidates that eventually commit other crimes while on parole, which can impact parole board members’ emotions and self-attributions of responsibility. While this might be the case, the public may also have strong emotional reactions and attribute responsibility and blame to parole board members for the initial release.  The current study investigated whether the parole board or the public had a stronger attribution and the emotional response to crime committed by the parolee. This is based on the actor observer hypothesis, which suggests observers are more punitive than actors because they make more personal attributions. Data were collected across two studies, one with university students and one with online community members. Participants completed a questionnaire and acted either as mock parole board members and made parole decisions or as a member of the public and evaluated parole decisions. We analyzed the data using an analysis of variance and assessed differences between the public and parole conditions. Results suggest that the public is more punitive than the parole board regarding the parole board’s role in the parolees’ actions, and this was consistent across both samples for attributions of causality, knowledge, coercion, answerability, control, justification, excuses, responsibility, blame, anticipatory guilt, and anticipatory regret.  Parole board members held themselves more morally wrong than the public did. These results imply that when parolees commit crimes after being released on parole, the public made more punitive attribution and emotional judgments. However, the parole board felt more morally wrong about their own role in the crimes committed by the parolees.

Presentation Author(s):
Timothy Lawrence*

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