Lookism and crim justice: Apprentice research.

I’ve got a blunt question for today’s blog. Do unattractive (read ‘ugly’) criminals receive harsher sentences than attractive ones? This question interests me because I’m writing a book about  murder and “blind” justice. 

Testing lookism and crim justice.

A respectable study of this question by a novice researcher emerged several years ago.  Kelly Beck researched this lookism and crim justice using sophisticated stepwise regression methodology.*

For many years, researchers have attempted to find a link between looks and other variables. Using a computer based symmetry measurement tool, Ms. Beck used an objective looks measurement system. She found   there are racial discrepancies in the analysis of looks on sentencing decisions.In the black sample there was a premium for looks but in the white sample, looks were penalized.

Lookism & crim justice: Nick Nolte

Lookism & crim justice: Nick Nolte

Disparities in Sentencing Decisions.

Ms Beck starts with the obvious issue of how does one determine attractiveness? She notes that Plato essentially concluded that “Beauty is in the eye of the
beholder”  Beauty is a subjective issue because people have such differing views on what they find beautiful.
This subjective element of beauty makes it necessary for an objective measure of
beauty to be utilized to conduct an unbiased study. Hence, Beck’s decision to focus on symmetry. See my prior blogs re symmetry.

Here are Beck’s conclusions:

Lookism and crim justice.

This study aimed to examine the role that an individual’s physical characteristics
might play in a judge or jury’s sentencing decision. The overwhelming finding of the
analysis is that superficial characteristics do seem to playa role in courtroom decisions.
However, this is a complex one. In some instances, there seems to be a penalty for beauty.
In these cases, the more attractive criminals receive the harsher sentence. At the same time,
the less attractive criminals receive the more lenient sentence and a possible pity factor
develops. The scarred, tattooed, overweight, obese, and unattractive criminal receive the
more lenient sentence. Within this finding however, definite racial differences exist. For
instance, a white man who is characterized as average looking is more likely to received life
as opposed to life without parole than an attractive white man. Thus, there exists an
attractiveness penalty. However, in the case of a black male, an above average individual is
more likely to receive the death penalty than an individual characterized as attractive. Thus,
the less attractive individual received the harsher penalty indicating an ugliness penalty.

Another important finding was the significance of prior sentences and Tiers 1, 2, and
3. The statistical significance of these variables shows the researchers that Georgia
legislation, for example the Three Strikes Law and the Seven Deadly Sins Law, has been
successful in making sentences harsher for repeat and violent offenders. Since these were
oftentimes the most significant and of the highest magnitude, it can be deduced that the
20 Bias may have entered the dataset due to prisoner’s deaths or executions because the prisoners included are
currently incarcerated in Georgia.

Criminals receiving the harshest penalties in prison may be being judged mostly on their
misdeeds as opposed to their looks.

However one should not take this to mean that deed alone tell the whole story. The
very fact that superficial characteristics are ignificant shows that someone’s physical
appearance matters in determining their sentence for a judge or jury. There can be several
reasons for the contrasting negative and positive signs on superficial characteristics. One
could include personality and psychological variables that are absent in the model. Despite
the absence of these variables, there is still much to be said about the model’s strength. The
innovation of this study is the use of objectively measured superficial characteristics and
their empirical links to criminal outcomes.”

 Go here for the full text of Ms Beck’s study.

Stay tuned for a future blog about a study re this topic conducted by expert researchers.

This method checks a list of independent variables and selects those that are found to be most important to describe the dependent variable.

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