The "Voice of Justice" vs. the "Voice of Care" in the Assignment of Criminal Sanctions

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According to Gilligan's model of moral reasoning, some people approach difficult decisions situationally and in response to needs and relationships of the people involved, often including themselves. People who think this way operate with a "care voice" and tend to be girls and women. Others do so with concerns about rights, obligations, and rules, employing conventional standards uniformly to be fair. These people operate with a "justice voice." A study was conducted to assess the usefulness of the model for understanding student opinions of penalty for two hypothetical criminal offenders. Based upon data obtained from a self-administered written questionnaire and a quantitative index of "voice," three themes emerged. First, most students exhibited concerns reflective of the two internal moral structures, the "care voice" and the "justice voice," when they responded to queries about the proper function of criminal sanctions. This indicates that at least two equally legitimate yet competitive definitions of criminal justice exist. Second, gender and "voice" are associated, but not invariably. Third, "voice" is more helpful than gender for explaining penalty choices. The care model is associated with penalty choices that are responsive to needs of people involved in the situation, and the custodial nature of sanctions lends insight into these choices. The justice model is associated with the assignment of normative sanctions. Moreover, many students expressed a "model of voice," or a view of fairness, that conflicts with the dominant model of the criminal justice system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)70-81
Number of pages12
JournalCurrent Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychology(all)


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