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Criminal or Terrorist? Fear, Bias, and Public Support for Prisoner Reentry Programs



The potential threat posed by returning and repatriated foreign fighters and the upcoming release of homegrown violent extremists from prisons in developed democracies has raised interest in terrorist rehabilitation programs. Few studies, however, systematically examine how the public views such programs. Drawing on research on public attitudes toward prisoner reentry in criminology and social psychological theory, this study offers a series of hypotheses about support for rehabilitation programming for terrorist offenders. These hypotheses are then tested through a survey experiment on a nationally representative sample of 1,021 adult citizens in the United States. The results show that the public is less supportive of postrelease rehabilitation programming for terrorists than other criminal offenders. Support is also lower when an Islamist, rather than a white nationalist, offender is referenced. Support increases when a referenced Islamist is described as a juvenile convicted of a less serious offense. Men, younger individuals, those with some college education, and self-identified liberals are more likely to support terrorist rehabilitation programming. Finally, irrespective of treatment, respondents are most likely to cite evidence of effectiveness as the factor that would increase their support for rehabilitation programming.

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