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New Study Finds Wide Support For 'Second Look' Sentencing

Washington, D.C., has implemented second look sentencing, permitting prisoners who committed their crime while young to ask a judge to take a second look and consider releasing them. Legislators in about half the states have introduced second look bills, and federal efforts to allow resentencing for youth

crimes have bipartisan backing.

A new study examined support for second look sentencing. The study found that most respondents approved of this approach, regardless of the inmate's age. Support was likely to rise when petitioners signaled their intent to reform, for example by completing a rehabilitation program or obtaining a recommendation from the warden, and had the support of the victim or their family.

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Cincinnati, Georgia Southern University, Xavier University, University at Albany State University of New York, Arizona State University, and the University of South Florida. It appears in Criminology & Public Policy, a publication of the American Society of Criminology.

In the movie "The Shawshank Redemption, " a main characters is an inmate who committed a crime as a youth and is granted release when he tells the parole board he regrets the crime. The story illustrates an issue in long-term incarceration: People who commit serious crimes as juveniles or in early adulthood may not be the same 15, 20, or 30 years later.

Because the continued incarceration of reformed people is costly and does not enhance public safety, "second look" advocates argue for releasing some prisoners who have been incarcerated for decades.

In the study, researchers assessed public support for second look sentencing, exploring opinions from two national samples.

“Our goal was to examine whether public opinion is favorable to reducing lengthy sentences for violent crimes committed while young and, if so, whether certain factors shape preferences for who should be prioritized for release,” explains Amanda Graham, assistant professor of criminal justice and criminology at Georgia Southern University, study co-author. “In short, we wanted to know if there could be a Shawshank Redemption effect.”

Data came from two national-level experimental surveys. The main survey,co nducted in September 2021, used Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk), a crowdsourcing marketplace, to get responses from more than 1,000 U.S. residents 18 years and older.

Researchers embedded some of the same questions into a YouGov survey conducted

in June 2022 to explore the generalizability of their results. YouGov samples are matched and weighted to approximate the adult U.S. population on age, gender, race, education, region, and voting behavior. More than 1,000 respondents completed the YouGov survey.

Graham said, “Our findings suggest that many members of the public believe in a Shawshank

Redemption effect—that individuals who committed serious crimes as teenagers or young adults

can mature into different people and warrant a second look, with the possibility of early release if

they have earned it.”

The study was funded by the University of Cincinnati and Arizona State University.


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