Wrongful Convictions and Punitiveness: Measuring Student's Attitudes on Erroneous Felony Convictions

Date of Award

Fall 2011

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Sociology & Criminal Justice


Applied Sociology

Committee Director

Elizabeth Monk-Turner

Committee Member

Kimberly Martin

Committee Member

Donald Smith

Call Number for Print

Special Collections LD4331.S62 L36 2011


The purpose of this study is to better understand the attitudes towards wrongful convictions and levels of punitiveness among college students who may work in the criminal justice field in the future. It attempts to replicate Robert Ramsey and James Frank's 2007 study "Wrongful Conviction - Perceptions of Criminal Justice Professionals Regarding the Frequency of Wrongful Conviction and the Extent of System Errors." Instead of surveying criminal justice professionals, this study's sample is on-campus undergraduate classes in criminal justice and political science for the spring 2010 semester at Old Dominion University using a survey that operationalizes punitiveness with a series of questions focused on retribution and incarceration.

Two hypotheses: Students planning on becoming defense attorneys will perceive wrongful felony convictions to occur less often than their professional counterparts and Students planning on becoming prosecutors will perceive system errors to occur less often than their professional counterparts, could not be tested by the current study. However, hypothesis one, "Students planning on becoming law enforcement officers will perceive system errors to occur less often than their professional counterparts", was not supported. Also, the findings of the current study suggest that political affiliation and class standing are the main predictors of level of punitiveness. The respondent's year in school (ex. freshman, sophomore, etc.) was found to significantly influence one's punitiveness: as education rises, level of punitiveness decreases.


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