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Fellow Traveller Versus Moral Stranger: How Overall Views of Offenders Impact on Punishment and Rehabilitation Decisions

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posted on 2021-11-12, 23:15 authored by Fisher, Stephanie

Theoretical discussions have proposed that opinions relating to offenders can be viewed along a continuum, with the moral stranger at one end and the fellow traveller at the other (Connolly & Ward, 2008). At the very basic level the moral stranger is the offender who is a bad person, while the fellow traveller is the offender who has done a bad thing. It is proposed that where an individual’s view of offenders sits on the continuum will help determine punishment and rehabilitation decisions that they make about offenders. It is further proposed that these views are influenced by outside factors such as the way that the media portrays offenders. The media is an important source of information on crime and offenders (Gilliam & Iyengar, 2000; Klite, Bardwell, & Salzman, 1997), and so the way that the media write about offenders can influence the public’s opinions about offenders. The moral stranger and the fellow traveller are theoretical concepts at present, so the aim of the current research was to investigate these concepts in an empirical context. Firstly, Studies 1 and 2 presented crime vignettes written from either the moral stranger perspective or the fellow traveller perspective and then investigated what punishment and rehabilitation differences there were. Study 3 then developed a measure to evaluate individuals’ opinions about offenders, to create an empirical basis for the existing theory. The Opinions about Criminal Offenders (OCO) Scale was developed in Study 3. Study 4 then tested the psychometric properties of this Scale, and through further factor analysis the scale was pared down to 12-items made up of four subscales. Study 5 then brought together the empirical work from Studies 1 and 2 and the developed measure from Studies 3 and 4. Participants were presented with two vignettes, one written from a subjective view and the other from an objective view. They were also given the 12-item OCO Scale. Structural Equation Modelling was then used to extend the work of Studies 1 and 2, and to further develop the decision making process individuals go through. Results indicated that each subscale of the OCO predicted different judgements made about the offender, in terms of his characteristics and likelihood of reoffending, and that these judgements then predicted different judgements about the outcome of the offence, including punishment motive. These studies, together, show that the moral stranger and fellow traveller concepts do exist, as a continuum, and the development of the OCO Scale showed that there is utility in the scale in terms of the type of judgements made about an offender and an offence. The current study was conducted with a sex offence in the vignettes and so further research needs to extend this by using different offence types and different offender characteristics, to investigate how generalisable these findings are.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Psychology


Crawford, Matt; Ward, Tony