Dehumanization, Moral Disengagement, and Public Attitudes to Crime and Punishment
The previous extracts illustrate the tendency for some members of society to view criminals as animals or subhuman savages. Contemporary media images often conjure monstrous images of criminal savages that do not deserve public compassion. This perception of criminal offenders is not just a contemporary phenomenon; it has historical precedent. As early as 1876, Cesare Lombroso argued that certain people are born criminal, or delinquente nato. Lombroso claimed that criminals had physical and psychological anomalies that were similar to those of primitive peoples and animals. He referred to criminals as atavistic savages and set out on a quest to document their subhuman characteristics. Lombroso’s approach exemplifies the dehumanization of offenders that was characteristic of the second half of the 19th century (Jahoda, 1999). According to Jahoda (1999), such dehumanization also extended to the poor, the mentally ill, and women. Interestingly, some of these views still influence people’s judgments of criminals in contemporary Western society (e.g., Goff, Eberhardt, Williams, & Jackson, 2008).