Social Attitudes toward Sentences Commuted for Mental Illness: The Case of College Students in Taiwan
研究紀要 Research Summary
Over the past few years, there has been a contentious debate in Taiwan regarding the punishment of individuals with mental illness who have committed crimes. The issue revolves around the public’s expectations for criminals to face appropriate legal consequences, which becomes particularly complex when mental illness is a factor. Article 19 of Taiwan’s Criminal Code grants criminals with mental illness the right to assert their condition and request commutation or exemption. Given this, this legal provision has not been immune to criticism and has faced considerable public backlash in high-profile cases where mental illness is presented as a defense.Our attempt here is to not only navigate the delicate balance between safeguarding the human rights of this special group and upholding societal justice, but also to provide valuable empirical insights for future deliberations. Existing research has primarily concentrated on abolishing the death penalty for this group of criminals, however there is surprisingly limited information on public attitudes toward their commutations. Moreover, with the enactment of the National Judges Act in 2023, which introduces citizen involvement in the sentencing process, relative discussions are expected to become more indispensable. In encouraging their students to adopt diverse perspectives, universities in Taiwan have emphasized the importance of a well-rounded general education. In this sense, we believe a more inclusive discourse will enhance the analysis.To achieve a more inclusive discourse, this study aims to investigate the attitudes of Taiwanese university students toward criminals with mental illness and whether they should receive a chance of reduced sentences. The study has three primary objectives: (1) to comprehend how university students perceive the behavior of these criminals; (2) to assess their attitudes toward granting commutation to these individuals; and (3) to identify the key factors that influence these attitudes. In order to achieve our research goals, a questionnaire was conducted with 847 students. This quantitative analysis involved employing descriptive statistics, regression analysis, and the moderated mediation effect.Our study proposed four research hypotheses and found that two of them were empirically supported: (1) one’s contact experience has a significantly positive effect on one’s behavior cognition toward criminals with mental illness; and (2) contact experience also has a significant effect on one’s attitude toward commutation for these criminals. However, two hypotheses were not supported: (1) media influence has no moderation effect between one’s contact experience and one’s behavior cognition toward criminals with mental illness; and (2) one’s behavior cognition toward these criminals also has no mediation effect between one’s contact experience and one’s attitude toward their commutation. Besides, one’s behavior cognition on criminals with mental illness has no significant effect on one’s attitude toward commutation of these certain criminals.In summary, we found that the public often holds contradictory social attitudes toward criminals with mental illnesses, characterized by both empathy for their disability and aversion when they attempt to use mental illness as an excuse for commutation or exemption. Furthermore, although contact experience helps reduce social distance, we argue that tolerance for deviations in the daily behavior of these criminals and attitudes toward commutation should be considered as two distinct contexts. Lastly, our university student sample could serve as an example for future research, offering precious insight into the better practices of citizen judges. In essence, this study enhances the ongoing dialogue regarding societal attitudes towards commutation for individuals with mental illness who have committed crimes. We anticipate that our research will serve to foster a deeper comprehension of the complex issues surrounding this particular demographic.