Understanding Crime Control Theater: Do Sample Type, Gender, and Emotions Relate to Support for Crime Control Theater Policies?

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Policies such as America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response Alerts, safe haven laws, Megan’s law, and three-strikes laws have provided the public with a feeling of safety and security. However, research has provided evidence that disputes their effectiveness. These types of laws and policies have become known as “crime control theater” (CCT) because they appear to be effective, serve the public’s best interests, and provide a crime control purpose but are largely ineffective and have unintended negative consequences. Using self-affirmation and emotion theory, this study examines potential explanations as to why individuals might support CCT policies. It also investigates whether support differs based on relevant characteristics (e.g., gender, sample type, and preexisting beliefs about policy effectiveness). Results suggest that females and Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) workers tend to support CCT policies more than males and college students. Further, the relationship between gender and support was mediated by anticipatory guilt, and this effect was stronger for individuals who did not believe in the effectiveness of the policy. Results suggest that individuals who believe the policy is effective will support it more than those who do not, regardless of their anticipated guilt. In contrast, those who doubt the policy only support it if they anticipate feeling guilty; this effect is stronger for women. Results can help explain why people support policies that are largely ineffective and suggest that relevance to the issue can help explain why some groups are more supportive than others.

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