Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts Honours


School of Psychology


Faculty of Computing, Health and Science

First Advisor

Dr Diedre Drake

Second Advisor

Dr Diane McKillop


With changes in policy relating to juvenile offenders being heavily influenced by the perceived public opinion of juvenile crime, the opinion of the public on the appropriate punishment for young offenders is important within contemporary society (Mukherjee, 1997). Public opinion research suggested that while society remains unsatisfied with current methods used to punish juvenile offenders, they believe a juvenile's punishment should be proportionate to the crime and that rehabilitation should be the main goal of juvenile punishment (Barber & Doon, 2004). This research further suggested that ignorance of both the juvenile's circumstances and the perceived prevalence of juvenile crime may account for the harsh attitude that has been directed towards juvenile offenders in recent decades (Covell & Howe, 1996). The literature examining the relationship between childhood factors and juvenile offending suggests that both childhood stability and educational deficiencies influence the likelihood of a child becoming involved in criminal behaviour (Lane, 2003). While the impact on offending behaviour of both of these childhood factors has been examined thoroughly by the scientific community, little research has investigated the influence the public perceives these factors should have on punishment. Therefore future research should investigate the Australian public's opinion on how severely juveniles should be punished, what forms the punishment should take, what the appropriate goals of juvenile punishment should be and whether childhood factors that predispose criminal behaviour such as childhood stability and educational deficiencies should be considered. While research in the area of childhood factors that predispose youths to criminal behaviour has developed a comprehensive theoretical basis, the current body of research fails to explore practical applications of this knowledge in the justice system. The purpose of this research was to bridge this gap in the literature by exploring whether society believes that childhood factors, such as an unstable childhood and educational difficulties, should influence the severity of the consequence a young offender should receive and the appropriate goal of punishment for the consequence. The study consists of a 2x2 (childhood stability x educational difficulties) between subjects design with the implementation of a quantitative research approach which also involved participants explaining their responses. 120 participants were randomly assigned to four experimental groups in which they received a questionnaire with a scenario containing experimentally manipulated information. The results indicate that participants believe the stability of the young offender's childhood and any difficulties they had with their education should not influence the severity of the consequence they receive. The results further indicate that in theory participants believe that the consequence given to a young offender should act as an individual deterrent, while in practise they suggest specific consequences that reflect a general deterrence goal of punishment. However participants do believe that young offenders with unstable childhoods and difficulties with their education are more suited to a rehabilitative goal of punishment than those with more stable childhood backgrounds.