The public sense of justice in Scandinavia: A study of attitudes towards punishments

Flemming Balvig, Helgi Gunnlaugsson, Kristina Jerre, Henrik Tham*, Aarne Kinnunen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


Crime policy is increasingly legitimized by reference to the public sense of justice. A research project has therefore been conducted in all five Scandinavian countries in order to examine the public’s views on punishment. These views have been examined by means of simple questions in telephone interviews, by vignettes in postal questionnaires, and by focus groups having seen a film of a mock trial. The results show that, when asked simple questions, the public want stiffer sentences. In their assessments of the vignette crimes, the public demands on average lower prison sentences than judges, and this tendency becomes stronger in the focus group study. The propensities towards punitiveness seem to diminish with more information and increasing proximity to the parties involved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)342-361
Number of pages20
JournalEuropean Journal of Criminology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 14 May 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The project has been financed by the Scandinavian Research Council for Criminology, by the Justice Ministry in Denmark, by the University of Iceland Research Fund in Iceland, by the National Research Institute of Legal Policy in Finland, by the Justice and Police Ministry in Norway, and by the Swedish Research Council in Sweden.

Funding Information:
The Danish study focused on crimes that may result in sentences of one to six months imprisonment, which are typical prison sentences in the country (). The results of the study led to an interest in having a further study based on more serious crimes, particularly crimes of violence (). The typical sentence here would be a prison sentence of one year and upwards. On the initiative of Leif Petter Olaussen, University of Oslo, and with financial support from the Scandinavian Research Council of Criminology, the second Danish study was enlarged to include Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. The data from Norway have been published separately in Norwegian and will not be included in this analysis. Some comparisons in this article will nonetheless include references to the Norwegian part of the study.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2015.

Other keywords

  • Public sense of justice
  • punitiveness
  • Scandinavia


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