Diagnosed Mental Disorders and Perceptions of Culpability: A Comparison of Sentencing Selections Due to Diagnosis

Author: Sara Francisco
Major: Psychology, Chemistry, French
Approved: Spring 2017
Status: Completed

For criminals with mental disorders, there are dichotomous concerns with sentencing: Whether a diagnosis will improve or make worse the sentence decision. The investigated diagnoses were schizophrenia and antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). A set of scenarios regarding violent felonies including aggravated assault (AA), manslaughter (M), second-degree murder (SDM), first degree murder (FDM), and multiple counts of first-degree murder (MFDM) were presented to participants. Participants were then prompted to answer polls regarding both where the felon should be sentenced and how long the sentence should be. Participants were Roanoke College students from all fields and in all years of study. For most of the levels of felony, significant differences were found on both location and length of sentence for those with and without a diagnosis primarily at the p < .001 level, though there was no significant difference between diagnoses. These findings indicate that people are aware of the need for specialized care for those with disorders and are aware that treatment may not require the length of sentence associated with a punitive prison sentence.