Research examining attitudes towards offenders assesses the attitudes of professionals working with offenders, rather than attitudes of those without any experience with offenders. The purpose of this paper is to examine whether prejudice towards offenders would decrease after engagement with incarcerated serious offenders, and whether any improvement would be explained by increased empathic responding.
An experimental field study was conducted. A repeated measures questionnaire assessed empathy and prejudice at two time points: before and after engagement with serious offenders.
As predicted experiencing actual engagement with convicted sex offenders and murderers within a prison environment did increase empathy and decrease prejudice towards ex-offenders.
All participants were applied criminology students and (prison visited) is not representative of prisons within HM Prison Service. It could be argued that responding was influenced by previous knowledge of criminal justice and penal systems. Future research should consider examining the impact of engagement on empathy and prejudice with a larger, naïve sample and across different prisons.
As the first (to the authors knowledge) to empirically examine attitude change of individuals with no personal experience of offenders this research has value to any person considering how social exclusion may be reduced at a societal level.
Mae Boag, E. and Wilson, D. (2014), "Inside experience: engagement empathy and prejudice towards prisoners", Journal of Criminal Psychology, Vol. 4 No. 1, pp. 33-43. https://doi.org/10.1108/JCP-06-2013-0016
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