And justice for all? Investigators' perceptions of punishment for fraud perpetrators

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Abstract

Despite extensive financial losses and other indicators of harm, the American public and legal professionals have historically been ambivalent toward white-collar crime. Recent research demonstrates that public perceptions of white-collar crime and attitudes toward the punishment of white-collar offenders have become more punitive. Along these lines, a neglected area of research concerns those individuals who routinely face white-collar crimes: fraud investigators. Using data collected during the height of recent corporate scandals (2001–02), this study examines the perceptions of 663 fraud investigators and extends prior research by considering the influence of investigator characteristics, organizational context (i.e., size, setting, internal controls, and resource capacity), case characteristics (i.e., offense type, financial loss, and sanction), and offender characteristics on legal professionals' general and specific punishment perceptions. Results indicate that organizational resources increase the likelihood of both outcomes. Additionally, the correlates of general and specific punishment perceptions are found to differ: government agency context influences general but not specific perceptions. Comparatively, the perception that fraud is increasing and a sanction that includes incarceration each have a significant, positive influence on specific punishment perceptions. Implications of these findings for future research and policy are discussed.

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