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Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology Volume 66 | Issue 2 Article 5 1975 Seriousness of Offenses: An Evaluation by Offenders and Nonoffenders, e Robert M. Figlio Follow this and additional works at: hps:// Part of the Criminal Law Commons , Criminology Commons , and the Criminology and Criminal Justice Commons is Symposium is brought to you for free and open access by Northwestern University School of Law Scholarly Commons. It has been accepted for inclusion in Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology by an authorized editor of Northwestern University School of Law Scholarly Commons. Recommended Citation Robert M. Figlio, Seriousness of Offenses: An Evaluation by Offenders and Nonoffenders, e, 66 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 189 (1975)

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Page 1: Seriousness of Offenses: An Evaluation by Offenders and ...

Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology

Volume 66 | Issue 2 Article 5


Seriousness of Offenses: An Evaluation byOffenders and Nonoffenders, TheRobert M. Figlio

Follow this and additional works at:

Part of the Criminal Law Commons, Criminology Commons, and the Criminology and CriminalJustice Commons

This Symposium is brought to you for free and open access by Northwestern University School of Law Scholarly Commons. It has been accepted forinclusion in Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology by an authorized editor of Northwestern University School of Law Scholarly Commons.

Recommended CitationRobert M. Figlio, Seriousness of Offenses: An Evaluation by Offenders and Nonoffenders, The, 66 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 189(1975)

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THE TounNAL OF CRIMINAL LAW & CRImINoLoGyCopyright C 1975 by Northwestern University School of Law



The research reported here concerns the de-termination of the subjective severities of var-ious kinds of criminal offenses as judged byconvicted offenders and by nonoffenders. Thestudy aims -to determine if convicted offendersrate the seriousness of offenses in the samemanner as do middle-class nonoffenders withregard to (1) offense ranking, (2) absoluteand relative weight given to each offense and,(3) degree of consensus about the seriousnessof each offense.

There are few precedents in the literaturedealing with this topic.' Prison inmates havenot been asked to evaluate general offensivebehavior in these terms systematically with asensitive instrument. Until very recently anundertaking such as this would have been dif-ficult to accomplish. While the literatureabounds with discussions and tables so familiarto criminologists concerning the numbers andkinds of crimes observed among individuals,groups, societies, etc., little has been availableregarding the subjective content of the crimi-nal acts. The various types of criminal or de-linquent behavior have been a traditional inter-est for criminologists but, surprisingly, acarefully conceived attack on the determinationof the seriousness of violative activity did notbegin until the published work of Sellin andWolfgang in 1964.2

*Robert M. Figlio is a Research Associate atthe Center for Studies in Criminology and Crim-inal Law, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia,Pennsylvania.

'But see Hsu, A Study of the Differential Re-sponses to the Sellin-Wolfgang Iuex of Delin-quency, 1969 THE SOCIOLOGICAL COMMENTATOR 41,where the author found that the ordering of offensesby eighty-four inmates at the Ashland, Kentuckyreformatory was roughly similar to that reported bySellin and Wolfgang, although the assigned valueswere markedly different. See also Sechrest, Coin-parison of Inmate's and Staff's Judgments of theSeverity of Offenses, 6 J. REs. CRIME & DELIN-QIENCy 41 (1969), where research found no differ-ence between inmates and prison staff on a scaledeveloped by M. Warren and E. Reimer. M. WAR-REN & E. REIMER, THE WARREN-REIMER OFFENSESEVERITY SCALE (1959).

Building on the work of S. S. Stevens inthe field of psychophysical scaling, Sellin andWolfgang developed a subjective measuringstick for assessing the severity of various de-linquent acts based on the judgments of juve-nile court judges, police officers and collegestudents.3 They were able to scale the gamut ofdelinquent behavior involving components ofinjury, theft and/or damage down to the ratherinsignificant forms of deviant activity resultingin no injury, theft or damage along a contin-uum for which a power function was found tobe an adequate fit.

The stimuli developed for this purpose havebeen administered to a variety of cross-culturalsubject groups in Canada, England, BelgianCongo, Taiwan, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico andPuerto Rico.4 Cultural differences have ap-


For a discussion of psychophysical scaling tech-niques and their applications in this subject mattersee Akman, Figlio & Normandeau, Concerning theMeasurement of Delinqueiwy-A Rejoinder andBeyond, 7 BRIT. J. CRIm. 442 (1967) ; Rose, Con-cerning the Measurement of Delinquency, 6 BRIT. J.Cane. 414 (1966) ; Stevens, A Metric for the So-cial Consensus, 151 SCIENCE 530 (1966) ; Stevens,On the Operation Known As Judgment, 54 Am.SCIENTIST 385 (1966); Wilkins, New Thinking inCrimintal Statistics, 56 J. CRim. L.C. & P.S. 277(1965). For discussions on the application of mag-nitude (ratio) estimation procedures to non-physicalcontinua see R. Hamblin, Ratio Measuremnt andSociological Theory (unpublished manuscript atWashington University, St. Louis, Missouri).

4 See Akman & Normandeau, The Measurementof Crime and Delinquency in Canada: A Replica-tion Study, 1 AcTA CRiM. 135 (1968); Akman &Normandeau, Towards the Measurement of Crimeand Delhquency in England, CRIM. L. REv. (1969) ;Akman, Normandeau & Turner, Replication of aDelinquency and Crite Index in French Canada, 8CANADIAN J. CoRECTION 1 (1966); De Boeck &Houchon, Prologomienes a Une Statistique Crimi-nelle Con golaise, VI CAHIERS ECONOMIQUES ETSOCIAUX, nos. 3-4 (1968). See also J. BRYAND,M. CHAMBERS & D. FALCON, PATROL DEVELOPMENT(Department of Operational Research of the Uni-versity of Lancaster) (1968) ; P. ENNIS, CRIMINALVICTIMIZATION IN THE UNITED STATES: A REPORT

Vol. 66, No. 2Printed in U.S.A.

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peared, although the Canadian and Englishrespondents appear to rate offense severitiessomewhat similarly to Americans. This "indexof delinquency" has also been used successfullyin a variety of research settings to supplementthe usual "counts and classifications" approachto criminal behavior.

Sellin and Wolfgang assert that Americansociety is based on the middle-class value sys-tem, and that their scale is a measure of thatset of values, at least as applied to the serious-ness of various kinds of offenses. That some ofthe replications, particularly those in Canada,

OF A NATIONAL SURVEY, (National Opinion Re-search Center, University of Chicago) (1967);A. Brancato, Replications of the Sellin-WolfgangIndex of Delinquency, 1970 (unpublished manu-script at the University of Pennsylvania) ; Hsu,supra, note 1 ; M. Hsu (with the collaboration of A.Normandeau), The Measurement of Crime andDelinquency in Taipei, 1968 (unpublished manu-script at the University of Pennsylvania) ; A.Normandeau and A. Sa'danoer, Towards theMeasurement of Crime and Delinquency in Indo-nesia, 1968 (unpublished manuscript at the Univer-sity of Padang); G. Reiss and A. Normandeau,Measuring Criminality in Brazil, 1968 (unpub-lished manuscript at the University of Rio); B.Bell and A. Normandeau, A Crime Index forMexico, 1968 (unpublished manuscript at the Uni-versity of Mexico) ; A. Velez-Diaz, An Investiga-tion of Differences in Value Judgments betweenYouthful Offenders and Non-Offenders in PuertoRico, 1969 (unpublished manuscript at FloridaState University); A. Walker, Replication ofPhiladelphia-Montreal Scaling of Seriousness ofOffenses, 1966 (unpublished manuscript at Har-vard University).

5 See A. Normandeau, Trends in Robbery asReflected by Different Indexes, in DELINQUENCY:SELECrE STUDIES (T. Sellin & M. Wolfgang,eds. 1969); M. WOLFGANG, R. FIGLIO & T. SELLIN,DELINQUENCY IN A BIRTH COHORT (1972); W.MAHONEY, MEASURING THE EFFECTIVENESS OFCRIMINAL REHABILITATION PROGRAMS, OCCASIONALPAPERS #5, DEPT. OF HEALTH, EDUCATION ANDWELFARE (1968); W. MAHONEY & C. BLOZAN,COsT-BENEFIT EVALUATION OF WELFARE DEMON-STRATION PROJECTS: A TEST APPLICATION TO JU-VENILE REHABILITATION; RMC REPORT UR-040,DEPT. OF HEALTH, EDUCATION AND WELFARE(1968); F. Cannavale, Testing the Usefulness ofthe Index of Delinquency for Police, 1967 (unpub-lished mimeo at the University of Pennsylvania) ;F. Cannavale & B. Curnow, A Comparison ofDelinquency Indices, 1967 (unpublished mimeo atthe University of Pennsylvania); N. McGravy &D. Delahanty, Community Rehabilitation of theYounger Delinquent Boy, 1967 (final report ofH.E.W. on the results of the activities of theParkland Non-Residential Group Center in Louis-ville, Ky.); Craig &Budd, The Juvenile Offenders:Recidivism and Companions, 13 CRIME AND DELIN-QUENCY 344 (1967); Gold, Undetected DelinquentBehavior, 13 J. RESEARCH IN CRIME & DELIN-QUENCY 27 (1966).

have yielded quite similar scales lends supportto the thesis that something reproducible ishappening and that a degree of confidence isjustified in the use of the scale. In any eventwe shall accept the scale as it stands for thepurpose of this investigation in order to main-tain comparability with the Sellin-Wolfgangfindings. Thus, this study shall attempt to de-termine if the people who actually commit seri-ous crimes consider the severity of that behav-ior in ways similar to or divergent from amiddle-class sample.6


From Rahway Prison, an adult penal institu-tion of some 1000 inmates situated in theTrenton-New York conurbation, a sample ofsome 200 respondents was drawn (of which193 actually took part), while the whole popu-lation of 524 residents of Annandale Farms, ajuvenile detention center in rural New Jersey,was asked to take part in the study. The prob-lems of scheduling and security were such thatthe number of participants had to be limited atRahway Prison.

In addition, the undergraduate sociologyclasses (216 students) of the University ofPennsylvania were asked to respond to theSellin-Wolfgang scale, first, to provide test-re-test capability with the original study of 19648

6 It is not the intent here to overlook the prob-lem of unreported crime, "hidden delinquency" orother factors which may have a bearing upon thedefining of the dichotomy offender-nonoffender. Itmay be that the so-called "nonoffender" sampleused in this study may have offenders in it. How-ever, for our purposes, at this time, we need onlyconsider the modal type of each group. On thatlevel, at least, convicted offenders surely representa different social grouping than do college stu-dents.

r In 1967 Dr. Lloyd W. McCorkle, then Directorof Institutions and Agencies for the State of NewJersey, was asked to lend his approval of and aidto this project which required contact with prison-ers. Through his associate, Mr. Albert C. Wagner,Director of the Division of Correction and Parole,meetings with Mr. James Benedict, statistical as-sistant in charge of research and records, Mr.Warren Pinto, Superintendent of Rahway Prison,and Mr. U. Samuel Vukcevich, Superintendent ofAnnandale Farms, were conducted over a periodof some months so that the project could be ex-plained and its feasibility within the prison systemdetermined. Needless to say, without the enthusias-tic cooperation and assistance of these men, theundertaking of this project would have been im-possible.

8 See T. SELLIN & M. WOLFGANG, supra note 2,at 281-83.

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and second, to enable testing of the compari-sons among the various respondent groups.Such testing is not possible with data fromThe Measurement of Delinquency because theoffense dispersions were. not presented in aform congenial to this purpose.

Test booklets similar to those used by Sellinand Wolfgang were distributed to the inmatesand students9 and instructions for filling outthe booklet appeared in each booklet and wereread by the author to each group. Questionsregarding the meaning of the various stimuliwere entertained during the complete test pe-riod. In those cases where the respondent wasunable to read, the scale was read aloud andthe response entered by the author or one ofhis assistants.

As in the Sellin-Wolfgang study, two kindsof scales were administered: category andmagnitude.10 In the category scale each subjectwas asked to circle the number from one toeleven (least to most serious) which best rep-resented how serious he thought that particularoffense was. In the magnitude scale, the sub-ject was asked to choose any number whichadequately represented the seriousness of thatparticular offense description. The categoryscale has the advantage of being easy to visu-alize and to understand, but it is also numeri-cally constraining. The magnitude scale, whilehaving no such constraint, requires greater ab-straction in the thought process. Thus, eventhough the utility of the category scale suffersbecause of its mechanical simplicity, it was in-cluded as a "back-up" to provide at least someindication of the judged severity of offense ifthe magnitude stimuli were too difficult for theinmates to score. Such fears later provedgroundless, as the prisoners were quite able tomake magnitude judgments.

The items of the scale were revised slightlyto keep the language as simple as possible."1

Both scales use the same stimuli with the itemsrandomly assigned so as to minimize the effectof earlier responses on any subsequent evalua-tion. In the aggregate, the impact of these a

9 See T. SELLIN & M. WOLFGANG, supra note 2,at 253-55.

10 For a discussion of the details of these twoscale types see T. SELLIN & M. WOLFGANG, supranote 2, at 236-53.

"1 For the original version see T. SELLIN & M.WOLFGANG, supra note 2, at 397-98.

posteriori intrusions is minimal. The followingconstituted the list of stimuli:

TABLE IOffense Stimuli

A) The offender is a male.An offender takes $5 worth of property. He

did it by himself and he did not break into or enter abuilding.B) The offender is a male.

An offender takes $20 worth of property. Hedid it by himself and he did not break into or enter abuilding.0) The offender is a male.

An offender takes $50 worth of property. Hedid it by himself and he did not break into or enter abuilding.D) The offender is a male.

An offender takes $1000 worth of property.He did it by himself and he did not break into orenter a building.E) The offender is a male.

An offender takes $5000 worth or property.He did it by himself and he did not break into orenter a building.F) The offender is a male.

An offender takes $5 worth of property. Hedid it by himself and he broke into a building.

G) The offender is a male.An offender without a weapon threatens to

hurt a victim unless the victim gives him money.The offender takes the victim's money ($5) andleaves without hurting the victim.H) The offender is a male.

The offender with a weapon threatens to hurt avictim unless the victim gives him money. Theoffender takes the victim's money ($5) and leaveswithout hurting the victim.I) The offender is a male.

An offender injures a victim. The victim diesfrom the injury.J) The offender is a male.

An offender injures a victim. The victim istreated by a doctor and his injuries require him to behospitalized.K) The offender is a male.

An offender injures a victim. The victim istreated by a doctor, but his injuries do not requirehim to be hospitalized.L) The offender is a male.

An offender shoves (or pushes) a victim. Theveitim does not require any medical treatment.M) The offender is a male.

An offender forces a female to submit to sexualintercourse. No other physical injury is inflicted.


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TABLE I-Continued

N) The offender is a male.An offender takes an automobile which is

recovered undamaged.0) The offender is a male.

The offender is found firing a rifle for which hehas no permit.P) The offender is a male.

An offender prowls in the backyard of a privateresidence.Q) The offender is a male.

The offender is a customer in a house whereliquor is sold illegally.R) The offender is a male.

The offender disturbs the neighborhood withloud, noisy behavior.S) The offender is a male.

A juvenile runs away from home and therebybecomes an offender.T) The offender is a male.

A juvenile plays hookey from school andthereby becomes an offender.


The category scale, because of its limits, pre-sents few problems for the respondent. Table IIpresents these category mean scores, standarddeviations and analysis of variance tests forthe twenty offenses across the three (Rahway,Annandale and Penn) groups. The differencesamong the category means are significant forall offenses except larceny of five dollars,minor injury and rape. One may reject the hy-pothesis that there are no differences amongthe means in an absolute sense, although it isclear that within the frame of reference ofeach group there is strong agreement as to theordering of the severities of crime. The highintercorrelations in Table III support the ob-served uniformities of Table II.

Thus all three groups consider murder andrape as very serious; Penn and Annandaleplaced murder above rape (9.62 and 9.05, 9.20and 8.68 respectively), while Rahway reversedthe order (8.42 for rape and 8.06 for murder).

All groups agreed that larceny of five dollarsand minor injury were very insignificant andthat the nonindex offenses (offenses with nocomponents of injury, theft or damage) werealso of relatively little harm. The relationshipbetween the seriousness score given to larcenyappears to be strongly related to the dollaramount stolen for the Annandale and Penn rat-ers and only slightly so for the Rahway con-

victs. The relationship between the amount ofinjury sustained by a victim and the serious-ness score given by all three rating groups isstrong and positive.

Of particular interest for this study is thefinding that overall, Rahway offenders rate of-fenses with less severity than do the Annan-dale subjects who, although they have re-sponded in a fashion similar to that of thePenn students, also rated the offenses some-what less serious than did the students. Inshort, there is strong agreement about the rela-tive severity of assaultive offenses across thethree groups, and strong agreement betweenAnnandale and Penn about the relative seri-ousness of property offenses. The generalmoral system which places offenses in a partic-ular order and spacing seems to penetrate fromthe middle class students through the Annan-dale Farms group to the "hard" inmates ofRahway Prison. But the absolute force of im-pact of that system is greatest among the stu-dents and least among the Rahway offenders.These findings must be interpreted cautiously,however, because of the small amount of re-sponse variability which is possible within aone to eleven scale. The correlation coefficient,particularly, may be overly supportive of hy-potheses of similarity under such conditions.

Another way to look at these data is to con-sider the degree of consensus about the seri-ousness score of each offense. We expect thatbecause of the greater incidence of near illiter-acy and the concomitant increased likelihood ofmarginal comprehension, the responses fromthe offenders will display greater variabilitythan those from the student group. In fact thestandard deviations of the offender groups aregreater than those of the Penn students, rang-ing from about two to three score units for theformer and from about one to two units forthe latter. In summary, the ordering of offenseseverities and the spacing of these severitieswithin each rating group are similar; Penn stu-dents tended to evaluate offenses as being moreserious than did the Annandale sample who, inturn, rated more severely than did inmates ofRahway Prison.


The examination of the magnitude responsesis the core interest of this report because it is

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Rahway Annandale PennN = 140 N - 253 N= 58

Offense Type F(df = 2,448)

s S S

A. Larceny, 85 ................ 2.9286 2.5800 3.2648 2.4731 3.2241 2.2246 .8526*B. Larceny, $20 ............... 3.2429 2.5583 3.8696 2.6850 4.0862 1.8570 3.4622**C. Larceny, 850 ............... 3.1571 2.5226 4.3004 2.6764 4.8966 2.0148 12.9356***D. Larceny, $1000 ............. 3.6357 2.5167 6.3162 2.9349 7.2931 2.0596 36.3759***E. Larceny, 85000 ............. 3.7429 2.4388 6.8419 3.0182 7.1897 1.9597 65.1698***F. Burglary, 85 ............... 4.2857 2.8342 5.4032 2.9860 4.8103 1.9418 7.1650***G. Robbery 85 (no weapon) ..... 4.7214 2.7798 5.3004 2.9433 5.9138 1.8944 4.1519**H. Robbery 85 (weapon) ....... 5.6786 3.1008 6.5534 2.9076 6.8448 1.9449 5.3133***I. Assault (death) ............. 8.0643 3.1238 9.1976 2.5418 9.6207 1.7555 10.6547***J. Assault (hospitalization) ..... 5.3929 2.8655 6.5257 2.8515 7.4310 1.9021 13.3377***K. Assault (T&D) ............. 3.5857 2.4553 5.2579 2.8510 5.9828 1.8964 24.6331***L. Assault(minor) ............. 2.4929 2.4626 3.0079 2.6003 2.5000 1.5247 2.4435*M. Rape (forcible) ............. 8.4214 3.1350 8.6759 3.0637 9.0517 1.4680 .9783*N. Auto Theft ................ 3.0929 2.3225 4.6285 2.7739 5.5517 2.1372 24.4407***0. Rifle-no permit ............ 3.1786 3.0090 4.9328 3.2243 3.7414 2.6328 15.3880***P. Trespassing ................ 3.2643 2.7422 3.9289 2.7965 2.7069 1.3638 6.3759***Q. Illegalliquor ............... 2.1714 2.2630 4.7668 3.0804 2.0000 1.1994 54.7587***R. Disorderly conduct .......... 1.9856 2.1390 3.1858 2.5152 1.8621 .9991 16.6879***S. Runaway .................. 2.3786 2.3088 3.1779 2.6555 1.9310 1.2685 8.9580***T. Hookey .................... 2.3143 2.3782 2.5731 2.6636 1.3793 .8950 5.7607***

* Not significant, ** p < .05, *** p <.01.

TABLE IIICorrelations between Category Scores by Rating Group

Group Correlations

Rahway vs. Annandale ............ .9515***Rahway vs. Penn ................. .8646***Annandale vs. Penn ............... .9334***

*** p < .01

from the magnitude estimate of a given stimu-lus that Stevens based his work in psychophys-ical scaling and upon which Sellin and Wolf-gang developed their scale. Our task here willbe to determine if the response patterns ob-served above are observable when no numeri-cal constraint is placed on the subjects' choiceof offense seriousness. In accordance withStevens' method, the analysis will discuss geo-metric means whenever the term "mean" ismentioned.

The variability of magnitude estimations hasbeen found to grow approximately in propor-tion to the magnitude and to produce distribu-tions that are roughly log normal. Conse-quently, averaging is done best by takinggeometric means of the estimations. Thismethod of averaging also has the advantagethat, despite the different ranges of numbersused by different observers, no normalizing isneeded prior to averaging.' 2

Table IV displays the means, standard devia-tions and analysis of variance "F" values ofmagnitude score against offense type for eachgroup.

Here again it is eminently clear that strongagreement exists among all three groups' 3 asto what offenses are serious both in magnitude

32 Stevens, A Metric for the Social Consensus,151 SCIENCE 531 (1966). Geometric means werealso computed by Sellin and Wolfgang.

"3 The subjects in these three groups who re-sponded to the magnitude scale are different sub-samples of the three groups from those in the cat-egory pnalysis of Chapter IV.


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Rahway Annandale PennN -49 N = 263 N = 158_______- ______ ________- ______ _______ - ______F(df - 2,467)

S X s X S

A. Larceny, 85 ............. 4.3063 3.5672 6.5830 3.4760 4.4344 2.7483 6.7913***B. Larceny, $20 ........... 5.4744 3.2746 9.2303 2.8499 8.3528 2.4082 5.2424***C. Larceny, $50 ............ 5.4958 3.9653 10.1077 3.3932 12.0516 2.3156 9.0863***D. Larceny, $1000 .......... 9.4744 3.2265 23.8790 4.8685 23.0761 2.1829 10.4465***E. Larceny, $5000 .......... 11.1373 3.7020 33.4315 6.7200 36.2232 2.2142 11.6728***F. Burglary, 85 ............ 8.7111 4.0906 14.8678 3.4920 13.2381 2.2600 4.5657**G. Robbery 85 (no weapon). 15.8679 3.7939 13.6426 3.7191 19.8959 2.8439 4.5681**El. Robbery $5 (weapon).... 28.6914 3.4614 21.2063 3.7655 32.6975 2.5403 6.7373***I. Assault(death) ........ 6. 8.4497 3.9649 171.1088 16.5386 181.3084 4.4906 3.6261**J. Assault (hospitalized)... 28.7230 3.5987 30.9415 3.6594 60.5215 3.0805 15.9564***K. Assault (T and D) ....... 18.2488 3.4840 17.2032 3.7017 32.7237 2.9308 13.9983***L. Assault(minor) .......... 3.1440 3.8041 7.4090 3.6480 4.3158 3.6692 14.0798**M. Rape (forcible) .......... 50.9528 4.3119 96.0529 12.2803 98.3959 3.8547 2.0878*N. Auto theft .............. 5.3892 3.2864 10.1482 2.8227 10.5349 1.6246 11.1651***0. Rifle--no permit ......... 2.6413 3.6703 12.2717 3.9637 7.8005 3.6718 28.2746***P. Trespassing ............. 4.3535 4.2261 8.9459 4.2866 4.3089 3.0752 16.8107***Q. Illegal liquor ............ 2.5322 3.6958 12.3320 3.6557 2.0538 2.5218 125.7120***R. Disorderly conduct ....... 2.3138 2.9288 5.6598 3.1371 2.0472 2.4480 50.6511***S. Runaway ............... 1.8380 2.9329 5.1820 2.5180 1.8776 2.5168 46.6241***T. Hookey ................. 2.0488 3.4531 4.1954 3.5819 1.5247 2.1976 41.4592***

* not significant; ** p < .05; *** p < .01.

and sequence. The significant differencesamong the means observed for all of the of-fense types (excluding rape) are the result ofthe disparate absolute values given by the Rah-way offenders. The responses of the Annandalegroup are essentially the same as those of thePenn students. Penn rated murder at 181 andAnnandale at 171, while Rahway felt it wasworth only 68. Similarly, Penn and Annandaleagreed as to the seriousness of rape, 98 and 96respectively, while the Rahway score was 51.The Penn and Annandale increments injudged severity of increasing dollar theft arevery similar, while Rahway respondentsseemed much less sensitive to thievery. Pennand Annandale gave scores of 36 and 33 re-spectively, to a theft of $5000; the Rahwayscore was 11. Similar patterns obtain for theother index offenses, although the differencesare not so large.

Interestingly, the significant differences inthe mean scores for the very minor offenses oftrespassing, illegal possession of liquor, disor-

derly conduct, running away from home andplaying hookey are not the result of the dispar-ity between Penn and Annandale on the onehand, and Rahway on the other, but ratherthey are due to the agreement between Pennand Rahway. The Annandale raters consideredthese offenses as more serious (4 to 12 pointsas opposed to 2 to 4 points) than did the twoother groups. There is no readily apparent ex-plantation for this reversal other than the hy-pothesis that these offenses are more relevantfor the juvenile age-group of which they aremembers.

Stevens claimed in his empirical investiga-tions to have found confirmation of the psycho-physical law because about three dozen differentcontinua have been adequately fitted by thepower function Y = aXb.14 These continuacontained such stimuli as sound level, time du-

14 The psychophysical law of Stevens states thatequal stimulus ratios produce equal perceptualratios; that is, the "perceived magnitude p, growsas the physical value 0 raised to a power a

-, = Ko ." Stevens, supra note 12, at 530.

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ration, pleasantness of odors, occupational pref-erence, various types of attitudes and so on. Itwas of considerable interest, then, when Sellinand Wolfgang showed that the relationship be-tween the judged seriousness of thefts was apower function of the dollar value stolen.'5

We have also found in this study an almostperfect concordance between the logarithm ofthe perceived seriousness of theft of moneyand the logarithm of the dollar value.

The straight lines on the log-log plots ofFigure 1 substantiate the claim that the rela-tionship is a power function. As the betaweights indicate, to double the perceived seri-ousness score the amount of the theft must in-crease by about thirty-five times for the Pennraters, forty-two times for the Annandale sub-jects and about seventy times for the Rahway

15 See T. SF.I.LIN & M. WorxGANG, supra note2, at 285. The replications by Normandeau, et at..have also yielded a similar power function rela-tionship.

TABLE VRegression of Seriousness Score on Dollar Value

Stolen, by Rating Group

Rating Group r b

Rahway ....................... .9917 .1406Annandale ..................... .9965 .2403Penn .......................... .9878 .2867

inmates. The Penn and Annandale subjectshave generated fairly similar power functions,although one may still conclude that the sensi-tivity to change in dollar value stolen as ob-

served in the change in seriousness score isgreatest for -the Penn group, somewhat less for

Annandale and least for the Rahway prison-ers.;"

I6 Sellin and Wolfgang found a beta not toomuch greater than that of the Rahway offenders(.1652).


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Another finding, which Stevens substantiatedin his work, is that the relationship of a cate-gory scale to a magnitude scale of the samemeasure is characteristically concave down-ward, a nonlinear function somewhere betweenlinear and logarithmic.' 7 Sellin and Wolfgangfound stich a relationship, as have we (Figure2 is the Penn plot and the two offender groupplots are similar). Although this portion of thestudy deals with intensive stimuli, the re-sponse items are qualitative (excepting the dol-lar values) ; it is a numerical peg that we areattempting to generate for each item. There-fore, it cannot be determined for non-numeri-cal items if the scale is, in fact, a power func-tion except by analogy. That analogy must bedrawn from the similarity of the relationshipsbetween category and magnitude scales whichhave been generated in those instances wherethe input stimuli could be measured and fromthe form of the relationship derived in the Sel-

17 Stevens, supra note 12, at 532.

lin-Wolfgang study and in this project. Ofcourse, the form of the relationship is clearlylogarithmic for dollar stimuli. Nonetheless,without input stimuli which are measurable onsome scale other than that from estimates ofraters, no definite statement may be made re-garding the shape of the relationship. We mustrely upon the growing weight of evidence thatthe shape of relationship between category andmagnitude estimates is somewhat stable when apower function is plotted against an equal in-terval category scale.' s

1.s See Eissler, Empirical Test of a Model RelatingMagnitude and Category Scales, 3 SCANDINAVIANJ. PSYCHOLOGY 87 (1962); Enzen & McBurney,Magnitude & Category Scales of the Pleasantnessof Odors, 68 J. EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY 435(1964) ; Galanter & Messick, The Relation BetweenCategory and Magnitude Scales of Loudness, 38PSYCHOLOGICAL REV. 363 (1961) ; Perloe, TheRelations Between Category-rating and Magnitude-estimation Judgments of Occupational Prestige, 76AM. J. PSYCHOLOGY 395 (1963) ; Stevens & Galanter,Ratio Scales and Category Scales for a DozenPerceptual Continua, 54 J. EXPERIMENTAL PSY-


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So far it has been shown that the evaluationof the seriousness of thefts is logarithmicallyrelated to the dollar value of the theft, thatthere is a considerable degree of agreement asto the ordering and spacing of the seriousnessof various kinds of criminal behavior, and that,overall, the students rate offenses slightly moreseriously than do the Annandale subjects andthat the Rahway inmates view practically allviolative behavior significantly less seriouslythan either of the two other groups. As wasfound with the category scores, the Penn sam-ple exhibited somewhat greater consensus thandid the two offender groups in the magnitudeestimation process. The standard deviations forthe Penn sample are smaller than those of theother two groups. Most of the offenses arecharacterized by roughly the same amount ofagreement with the serious offenses of rapeand murder exhibiting comparatively large dis-persions. This is due, of course, to the unlim-ited upper end of the magnitude scale and theresulting extreme values entered by some indi-viduals for these very severe forms of criminalbehavior.

It will be recalled that the scale was admin-istered to the Penn students for two reasons:a) to develop the necessary distributions forassessing the major problem of differentialevaluation of the seriousness of criminal be-havior by the offender/nonoffender variable,and b) to test a group some ten years latersimilar to the one that generated the Sellinand Wolfgang offense scores. In Table VI thetwo sets of magnitude scores are displayed.This set of magnitude scores forms the basisfor the Sellin-Wolfgang Index of Delinquency.The offenses were rated about one-half as se-vere in absolute terms by the Penn studentsthan in the original study. Assuming that thescale is reliable, one can conclude that thetemporal trend has been to judge offenses asless serious than ten years ago. However, with-in each rating group the relative judgment ofseriousness of the offenses in terms of orderingand spacing has remained about the same.

Sellin and Wolfgang were not particularly

CHOLOGY 377 (1957). See also B. Finnie, An Empi-rical Comparison of Magnitude and Category Scal-ing Procedures Applied to Non-physical Stimuli,1965 (unpublished dissertation at Harvard Univer-sity).



Sellin- PennOffense Item Wolfgang Retest

Mean MeanValues Values

Larceny, S1 a 16.93 3.2958Larceny, 85 22.09 4.4344Larceny, $20 27.77 8.3528Larceny, $50 32.31 12.0516Larceny, $1000 52.99 23.0761Larceny, $5000 69.13 36.2232Burglary, $5 40.62 13.2381Robbery $5 (no

weapon) 52.25 19.8959Robbery 85

(weapon) 86.33 r = .9880 32.6975Assault (death) 449.20 b = .4246 181.3084Assault

(hospitalized) 115.60 60.5215Assault (T and

D) 69.32 32.7237Assault (minor) 22.50 4.3158Rape (forcible) 186.30 98.3959Auto theft 27.19 10.5349Forcible entry b 18.53 8.8037Intimidation

(verbal) c 30.15 15.4615Intimidation

(weapon) d 64.24 28.2631

a) derived from the power function of money.b) the difference of Burglary $5-Larceny $5.c) the difference of Robbery $5 (no weapon)-

Larceny 85.d) the difference of Robbery 85 (weapon)-

Larceny $5.These derivations were suggested by Sellin and

Wolfgang so that the relevant components fromdelinquent events could be isolated and weightedas to their severity because the separate elementswere not given to the subjects to score. The as-sumption of additivity is implicit in this procedure.

interested in the absolute values given to theoffense stimuli because they were not compar-ing different groups in terms of the judged"absolute" gravity. Rather they developed aweighting system based on the relative degreeof judged harm by dividing each mean scoreby the smallest score of the list of offenses,thus yielding a set of ratio weights.1 9 These

" T. SELLIN & M. WOLFGANG, supra note 2, at289.


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weights express the ratio of severity existentbetween a particular offense and the least seri-ous one. A five for a particular offense wouldmean (in round terms) that the offense wasjudged as being five times more serious thanthe least serious offense and so on. Those sim-ple ratios have been computed and displayedalong with the Sellin-Wolfgang ratio scores inTable VII. Here it can be 'seen that while theoriginal Sellin-Wolfgang study found thathomicide was rated as twenty-six times moreserious than larcency of one dollar, the Pennretest group considered it as fifty-five times moreserious, even though in absolute terms, they con-sidered murder less serious. The spread ofrelative seriousness is greater in the retestgroup, while the absolute evaluation of thegravity of the offense is less.The patterns of the relative differencesamong three rating groups in this study aresimilar to the absolute difference patterns dis-cussed earlier. The range of relative severitywas smallest for Rahway (21.8), followed byAnnandale (39.4) and Penn (55).

If we disregard the small changes in serious-ness in larceny of one dollar, minor injury andlarceny of five dollars, the ratios of the remain-ing more severe forms of offensive behaviormay be divided by two (dividing by a constantdoes not alter the ratios) with the minor offensescores of less than one rounded up to one. Thepurpose of this operation is to indicate more viv-idly the close agreement of ratios of relativeoffense severity for the more serious offensesover the ten year span which has already beensuggested by the high correlation coefficient re-ported in Table VI. The Penn retest group hasproduced ratios almost identical to the Sellin-Wolfgang raters. The collapsing of the ratiodistance for Annandale and, particularly, forRahway is again clear and dramatic; offendersdo not rate offenses as being as serious in ab-solute terms as do nonoffenders, nor do theyplace as much distance between severe andmoderately severe offenses.

Our study demonstrates that the relationshipbetween the category and magnitude versionsof the Sellin-Wolfgang scale is similar to that


Rahway + 3.14 Annandale + 4.34 Penn + 3.30Ofense Typme ____- _______- __________ S-W*

a b a b a b'*

Larceny $1 .................. 1.1 1 1.0 1 1.0 1 1Larceny 35 .................. 1.4 1 1.5 1 1.3 1 1Larceny $20 ................. 1.7 1 2.1 1 2.5 1 2Larceny $50 ................. 1.8 1 2.3 1 3.7 2 2Larceny $1000 ............... 3.0 2 5.5 3 7.0 4 3Larceny $5000 ................ 3.5 2 7.7 4 11.0 6 4Burglary $5 ................. 2.8 1 3.4 2 4.0 2 2Robb. $5 (no weap.) .......... 5.0 2 3.1 2 6.0 3 3Robb. $5 (weap.) ............. 9.1 5 4.9 2 9.9 5 5Assault (death) .............. 21.8 11 39.4 20 55.0 28 26Assault (hosp.) ............... 9.1 5 7.1 4 18.4 9 7Assault (T and D) ............ 5.8 3 4.0 2 9.9 5 4Assault (minor) .............. 1.0 1 1.7 1 1.3 1 1Rape (forcible) ............... 16.2 8 22.1 11 29.9 15 11Auto theft ................... 1.7 1 2.3 1 3.2 2 2Forcible Entry ............... 1.4 1 1.9 1 2.7 1 1Intimidation (verbal) ......... 3.7 2 1.6 1 4.7 2 2Intimidation (physical) ........ 7.7 4 3.4 2 8.6 4 4

* Scores rounded by the authors.

** "a" scores divided by 2 and rounded as in T. Sellin and M. Wolfgang, supra note 2.

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found in the original study and to that foundin numerous examples in psychophysical scal-ing. This research has also shown that theRahway prisoners do not consider offenses asbeing as serious as do the Annandale or Penngroups. All three groups perceive the serious-ness of thefts as a power function of the dollarvalue of the theft, with the Penn students re-acting most strongly and the Rahway groupleast strongly to the increase in the dollarvalue of theft. The temporal effect on the scalehas been the reduction, in absolute terms, ofthe amount of seriousness attached to each of-fense, while the order and spacing of the of-fense severities has remained roughly un-changed.


This analysis has been concerned with thedetermination of the differential evaluations ofthe seriousness of offenses by officially labeledoffenders and by nonoffenders, and the tem-poral trends, if any, in the judgment of the se-riousness of offenses as reflected in the appli-cation of the Sellin-Wolfgang index ofdelinquency to a similar group ten years later.

The offender group consisted of two incar-cerated samples: 193 Rahway prison inmatesand 524 Annandale Farm residents. The meanage of the former group was thirty-one yearsand eighteen years for the latter. Both groupswere 60 -to 70 per cent nonwhite. Their job his-tories were characterized as short-term, un-skilled, operative or menial. Seventy-five percent of the Rahway sample exhibited some formof emotional disorder on admission and one-third of them were drug users. Most of the menin both groups never finished high school, werelow achievers on the Scholastic Aptitude Testand exhibited moderate to low I.Q. scores. TheAnnandale responders were predominantlyproperty offenders, while the majority of theRahway subjects were assaulters. Against theresponses from these offender groups we setthe evaluations of the representatives of the"nonoffender middle-class community," 216University of Pennsylvania undergraduate stu-dents.

The same stimuli were administered in bothan eleven-point category and an unrestrictedmagnitude estimation scale. The agreement asto the ordering and spacing of offense severi-

ties in the category responses was quite strong,yielding correlations among the groups ofabout ".9." However, the Rahway subjects con-sistently gave lower values of seriousness tothe offenses than did either the Annandale orPenn responders, although the Annandale val-ues were generally lower than those of thePenn students.

The amount of consensus about the severityof the offenses was greatest among the Penncategory raters and about the same for both of-fender groups. The same continuum of Rah-way, Annandale and Penn in order of increas-ing value given to the seriousness of offensesin absolute terms obtained in the magnitude re-sponses, although again -the differences betweenAnnandale and Penn were small. The correla-tions among these groups were again centeredaround .9, although Penn and Annandale ratedmost offenses as being roughly twice as seriousas the values derived from the Rahway re-sponses. The spread from the least to the mostserious estimates was greatest in the Penn dataand least in the Rahway responses. The degreeof consensus was greater among the Penn rat-ers than among the two offender groupswhich were similar to one another.

Both offenders and nonoffenders agree as tothe ordering of offenses along a scale fromleast to most serious. They agree less on thespacing of the items and do not agree at all onthe absolute value of the harm inflicted by eachof the described criminal acts. Offenders re-spond less directly to changes in the dollarvalue of theft and to increases in the amountof physical injury resulting from an offensethan do nonoffenders. In fact, that responseappears to be a function of the degree of crim-inal "hardening" which has taken place. Thusthe Rahway prisoners are less likely to in-crease the judged seriousness of violative be-havior with increased stimuli strength than arethe Annandale subjects, who are younger andapparently less entrenched in that value systemexpressed by the older prisoners.

With regard to -temporal effects on the scale,the study revealed, that, overall, the Penn stu-dents considered offenses as only about one-half as serious as did their counterparts tenyears ago. However, the judged relative sever-ity of the offenses within each group, particu-larly for the more serious forms of property


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and bodily violations, were found to be almostunchanged. The differences in the absolute im-pact of criminal behavior between today's Pennstudents and those of a decade ago are almostof the same magnitude as those differences be-tween today's students and today's prisoners.

The students have maintained the same relativeregard for offenses but they have been desensi-tized in absolute terms. Nonetheless, the rela-tive weight given to each offense as a ratio ofthe lesser offenses has remained remarkablystable.

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