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Criminal Justice Studies: A Critical


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Factors that influence death penalty


support among university students in
Bosnia and Herzegovina
a b b
Lisa R. Muftic , Almir Maljevic , Ljubisa Mandic & Mirza
b
Buljubasic
a
CJ & Criminology, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX,
USA
b
Faculty of Criminal Justice Studies, University of Sarajevo,
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Click for updates Published online: 09 Apr 2015.

To cite this article: Lisa R. Muftic, Almir Maljevic, Ljubisa Mandic & Mirza Buljubasic (2015):
Factors that influence death penalty support among university students in Bosnia and Herzegovina,
Criminal Justice Studies: A Critical Journal of Crime, Law and Society

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Criminal Justice Studies, 2015
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1478601X.2015.1030076

Factors that influence death penalty support among university


students in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Lisa R. Muftica*, Almir Maljevicb, Ljubisa Mandicb and Mirza Buljubasicb
a
CJ & Criminology, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX, USA; bFaculty of
Criminal Justice Studies, University of Sarajevo, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
(Received 28 August 2014; accepted 12 March 2015)
Downloaded by [Sam Houston State University] at 06:29 14 April 2015

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) became an independent nation state in 1992 and
abolished the death penalty six years later. Little is known about how Bosnians
view the death penalty. This study addresses this gap in the literature. Utilizing
self-reported survey data collected from 440 university students enrolled at the
University of Sarajevo in 2009, we assess the degree of support for the death
penalty and what factors predict this support among university students in BiH.
Drawing from the broader punitivity literature, the following correlates are
considered: individual characteristics (e.g. age and sex), individual experiences
(e.g. fear of crime and prior victimization) and philosophical attitudes pertaining
to punishment (e.g. deterrence, retribution, modernity and indifference). Among
the students surveyed, roughly half (52.7%) were in support of the death
penalty. Results from a series of multivariate statistical analyses reveals that
only philosophical attitudes predict death penalty support after controlling for
important individual characteristics and experiences. Theoretical and practical
implications of these findings are discussed.
Keywords: death penalty; punitivity; attitudes; punishment; Bosnia and
Herzegovina

Introduction
Arguably the most severe as well as the most widely debated and controversial
punishment available for convicted offenders is the death penalty. While historically
nearly all countries have exercised capital punishment, today two-thirds of countries
have abolished the death penalty in law or practice (Amnesty International, 2014).
As the list of abolitionist countries grows, a rather sizeable body of research that
has explored public sentiment regarding capital punishment indicates a general
decrease in death penalty support across the globe (see Unnever, 2010 for a
review). Little is known, however, about attitudes towards capital punishment
among citizens from post-conflict countries. While a few studies have examined
punitive attitudes in developing and/or newly emerging nation states (Getoš &
Giebel, 2013; Ghassemi, 2009; Meško, Fields, Vošnjak, & Šifrer, 2013;
Nikolić-Ristanović, Dimitrijević, & Stevković, 2011; Ricijaš et al., 2004), the
majority of research comes from Western countries that have not been impacted
directly by war in recent years (Besserer, 2001; Cullen et al., 2009; Maruna &

*Corresponding author. Email: lmuftic@shsu.edu

© 2015 Taylor & Francis


2 L.R. Muftic et al.

King, 2009). This is unfortunate because the number of countries effected by armed
conflict each year numbers somewhere in the 30s (Stockholm International Peace
Research Institute, 2013) and, as argued by Kiza (2008), ‘while the incidence of
wars is well documented, the effects accompanying war are not’ (p. 147).
That being said, there is a general recognition that individuals residing in post-
conflict communities face a number of challenges related to the highly volatile
political, economic and social climate they reside in following the cessation of
armed conflict. It is plausbile that such challenges impact individually held beliefs.
For instance, research by Dyrstad (2013) found that exposure to violence during
war increases authoritarian values, supporting her argument that the formation of
attitudes ‘does not take place in a vacuum; the social context must be taken into
account’ (p. 1220). Yet, little attention has been directed at the attitudes,1 especially
punitivity,2 of individuals residing in areas that have been affected by armed
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conflict. This is an important line of inquiry because punitivity may be an indicator


of the willingness of individuals to reconcile (Kiza, 2008), as well as a gauge of
feelings regarding justice, security and human rights.
This essay will examine support for the death penalty among university students
in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). BiH is an interesting location to study penal atti-
tudes for several reasons. First, it is a relatively recent nationstate having regained
independence in 1992 following a brutal war in the 1990s that destroyed the social,
political and economic landscape of the country. Second, due to the rather recent
war, the residents of BiH have been exposed to a variety of forces at the macro
and micro levels that may have differentially impacted their attitudes regarding pun-
ishment compared to residents of nations not directly effected by conflict. Third, in
the post-conflict years there has been a tremendous growth3 in the number of stu-
dents studying at the University of Sarajevo (UNSA), the largest and oldest public
institution in BiH. These individuals will go on to impact policy in the country;
some of them as practioners within the system and/or as informed voters who will
make decisions related to which policies to support (or not to support). Thus, it is
imperative that policy makers, criminal justice practioners and educators as
Besserer (2001) aruges, ‘understand what factors play a role in shaping students’
views with regard to capital punishment’ (p. 391).

Bosnia and Herzegovina


BiH is a country in Southeastern Europe located on the Balkan Peninsula. On the
north, west and south, BiH borders with Croatia, on the east with Serbia and on
the southeast with Montenegro. It has a total land area of 51,200 km and a 12 km
long coastline on the Adriatic Sea. According to the initial results of the census
conducted in October of 2013, the resident population of BiH is about 3.8 million
and the population density estimated at 75 inhabitants per km (Agency for Statistics
of Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2012). Sarajevo, its capital and largest city, is best
known for being the location of the assissination of Archduke Ferdinand in 1914,
having hosted the winter Olympics in 1984, and most recently, being the site of the
longest seige of a capital city in modern warfare.4
Once part of the six autonomous republics that comprised the Socialist Federal
Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY), today Bosnia and Herzegovina is a democratic
state consisting of two entities (the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the
Republika Srpska) and one special administrative unit (Brčko District of Bosnia
Criminal Justice Studies 3

and Herzegovina); the result of a three-year war in the first half of the 1990s. The
territorial division of the country was not the only outcome of the war. Despite
nearly two decades of the absence of armed conflict, BiH continues to grapple with
high levels of unemployment, political instability and corruption, faltering social
institutions and a regeneration of nationalistic and ethnocentric sentiments
throughout the country (Chivvis & Đogo, 2010).

Capital punishment in BiH


The death penalty in the Balkans predates the arrival of the South Slavs (500
BC–1000 AD) to the Illyrian tribal communities and remained in existence
throughout the various empires that came to dominate the land and the peoples of
what today is referred to as BiH (Marinovic, 1990). During the medieval period,
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captial punishment could only be carried out if the medieval court was issued a
permit by the king (Ahić, 2009). During the Ottoman empire (1463–1878), the
death penatly was exercised in a variety of ways including hanging and beheading
and was performed for an assortment of offenses including theft or tax evasion.
Under Austro-Hungarian rule (1878–1918) the administration of death sentences
were restricted to offenses that were considered proportionate to such a sentence
(i.e. homicide, treason, robbery and theft) and to offenders who were 18 years of
age or older. During the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (1918–1941),
general, military and political codifications had 47 sections that prescribed the death
penalty, which were carried out by firing squad (Marinovic, 1990). Following
World War II, BiH became part of the SFRY (1945–1992), where the death penalty
existed for serious criminal acts (e.g. treason, murder and rape) and in the Socialis-
tic Republic of BiH there were a total of 49 criminal offenses for which capital
punishment was executed (Marinovic, 1990). The last death sentences in the SFRY5
to be carried out were in 1975 in BiH, in 1992 in Serbia, and in 1989 in Croatia
(Avaz, 2010; Dragojlovic, 2013; Hood & Hoyle, 2008; Marinovic, 1990). In BiH,
the constitution of the newly formed independent nationstate of BiH (1992 to pre-
sent) abolished the death penalty in 1998.6 However, because BiH is divided into
the Federation of BiH and Republika Srpska (RS), each with their own constitution,
the possibility to prescribe and impose the death penalty still exists in Article 11 of
the RS constitution,7 despite the Criminal Code8 not allowing for capital
punishment (Dragojlovic, 2013; European Commission, 2013).

Death penalty support


The last two decades have experienced a shift in public sentiment pertaining to
punishment; with most Western countries witnessing a decline in citizenry support
for incarceration (Van Kesteren, 2009) and capital punishment (Cullen et al., 2009;
Unnever, 2010). Recent public opinion polls indicate that less than half of
Australians, Britons and Canadians express support for the death penalty, while
greater support is found amongst citizens of non-abolotionist countries including
the United States (citizenry support is around 64%, the lowest it has been in almost
three decades) and Japan (with 86% of the Japanese in favor of capital punishment,
an all time high; Death Penalty Information Center, 2014).
Less attention has been directed at post-conflict countries which may, or may not,
be experiencing the same shift in punitive sentiments. Research that has been
4 L.R. Muftic et al.

conducted among university student populations in Croatia (Getoš & Giebel, 2013),
Slovenia (Meško et al., 2013) and Serbia (Nikolić-Ristanović et al., 2011) has found
that despite the abolotion of the death penalty within each country following indepen-
dence, a relatively large proportion of students studying within these countries sup-
port capital punishment. For example, students in Serbia were the most likely to be in
favor of capital punishment with almost 2 out of 3 (62.3%) voicing support for the
death penalty (Nikolić-Ristanović et al., 2011). While almost half (47.1%) of students
surveyed in Slovenia were in favor of the death penalty for certain crimes (Meško
et al., 2013), less support was found among students in Croatia, with roughly 1 out of
3 (31.9%) approving the use of capital punishment (Getoš & Giebel, 2013).
To our knowledge, there are only two published studies, both of which rely on
data that is over a decade old, that have examined Bosnian’s attitudes about punish-
ment. The first study, based on data taken from the 1999 People on War Report,
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found that compared to residents from 13 other post-conflict socities, Bosnians


were the most punitive; at least when it came to punishing people ‘who have bro-
ken the rules and laws of war’ (Kiza, 2008, p. 148). The second study, which relied
on data collected in 1999 for the Voice of the People Millennium Survey 2000,
reported that roughly 1 out of 3 (30.2%) Bosnians support the death penalty,
putting BiH in the bottom quartile of countries studied in terms of punitiveness
(Unnever, 2010). Neither of these studies, however, provide any insight into why
residents of BiH are more (e.g. Kiza, 2008) or less (e.g. Unnever, 2010) punitive
when it comes to the death pealty.

Factors that influence death penalty support


While there is no known published research that has examined factors that may be
predictive of death penalty support in BiH, there is an abundance of literature that
has done so in other countries (see e.g. Cullen et al., 2009). Because a review of
this research is beyond the scope of this paper, we have chosen to focus on
research that have utilized student samples (Cox, 2013; Farnworth, Longmire, &
West, 1998; Getoš & Giebel, 2013; Ghassemi, 2009; Jiang, Lambert, & Wang,
2007; Lambert et al., 2008; Lambert, Pasupuleti, Jiang, Jaishankar, & Bhimarasetty,
2008; Lane, 1997; Meško et al., 2013; Nikolić-Ristanović et al., 2011; Shelley,
Waid, & Dobbs, 2011). As a whole, this research indicates there are several factors
that influence university students’ attitudes toward capital punishment including
individual characteristics, individual experiences and philosophical beliefs about
punishment, each of which will be discussed below.

Individual characteristics
It has generally been assumed that certain sociodemographic characteristics are pre-
dictive of punitiveness. Early research that examined public support for the death
penalty often found men and the elderly to be more supportive of the death penalty
than were women and the young (Besserer, 2001). Research conducted among stu-
dent samples, however, has failed to find differences in support by student sex
(Bohm, Clark, & Aveni, 1991; Brown, Benedict, & Buckler, 2010; Ghassemi,
2009; Jiang et al., 2007; Lambert, Pasupuleti, et al., 2008; Lane, 1997; for an
exception see Shelley et al., 2011) or age (Jiang et al., 2007; Lambert, Pasupuleti,
et al., 2008; Lane, 1997; Shelley et al., 2011).
Criminal Justice Studies 5

Another characteristic that may influence a student’s level of support of capital


punishment is level of education and chosen area of study. Prior research indicates
that education generally has a liberalizing effect on attitudes with college educated
individuals holding more liberal attitudes than individuals who have not attended
college (see Farnworth et al., 1998 for a review). Area of study is another impor-
tant factor to consider. For example, previous research has found criminal justice
students to hold more punitive attitudes than other majors (Farnworth et al., 1998;
Getoš & Giebel, 2013; Shelley et al., 2011). On the other hand, because students
majoring in criminal justice are theoretically exposed to more information about the
punishment process over the course of their academic career, and it is believed that
such exposure leads to a decrease in punitivity9 (Lane, 1997), it is plausible that
criminal justice students are less punitively orientated than other majors.
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Individual experiences
Within punitivity studies, the impact of fear of crime and victimization on individu-
ally held attitudes are often explored. The arguments for these two factors are virtu-
ally the same; that individuals who are fearful of crime and/or have been the victim
of crime are more punitive than individuals who exhibit lower levels of fear and
non-victims. While there may be some truth to these statements among the general
public (Besserer, 2001), it is difficult to determine if fear of crime and victimization
predict death penalty support among college students as research utilizing these
types of sample is limited and mixed. For instance, research conducted by
Nikolić-Ristanović et al. (2011) found that students without a history of criminal
victimization were more likely to support the death penalty than students who had
been victimized. In Slovenia, students who were fearful of crime were more likely
to support the death penalty, although victimization history did exhibit an effect on
support (Meško et al., 2013).

Philosophical beliefs and death penalty support


Not surprising, research shows that certain philosophical beliefs are correlated with
death penatly support (Jiang et al., 2007; Lambert, Hogan, et al., 2008). For
instance, detterence is often a common reason provided by death penalty
proponents of why they support capital punishment (Lambert, Camp, Clarke, &
Jiang, 2011). From a criminological standpoint, deterrence is based on the assump-
tion that if punishment is certain, swift and severe, individuals will refrain from
commiting crime in order to avoid being punished (Apel & Nagin, 2013). Because
the death penalty is arguably one of the most, if not the most severe form of pun-
ishment available to the state, proponents often state that the death penalty provides
a necessary deterrent to would-be offenders. Retribution, on the other hand, is
based on the principle of lex talionis and reflects the desire to punish a wrongdoer
for his or her actions. Many death penalty advocates cite the retributive properties
of captial punishment, especially for the crime of murder (Bohm, 1992).
While there is little research that has examined the effects of modernity and
indifference on death penalty attitudes, it seems logical that these types of attitudes
would impact support for the death penalty. For instance, it is typically argued that
people with a more modern view of the world (generally maked by an acceptance
of science, individualism and capitalism and a rejection of tradition, communialism
6 L.R. Muftic et al.

and feudalism) would be less supportive of a more ‘traditional’ and ‘archaic’


method of punishment for offenders, such as capital punishment. Indifference, on
the other hand, implies an overall lack of feeling, opinion, or interest in a topic. In
cases of indifference, it is plausbile that individuals who express indifference when
it comes to capital punishment will be less supportive of the death penatly.

Current study
To recap, this study sets out to explore death penalty support among university stu-
dents in BiH. Because of mixed findings related to the relationship between individ-
ual characteristics, experiences and attitudes regarding punishment and death penalty
support in the previous literature, as well as a lack of attention directed at punitivity
within post-conflict societies, we have decided not to develop hypotheses, but rather
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focus on research questions. Four sets of research questions will be explored:


Research Question 1. What percentage of students support the death penalty?

(1) Among students who support the death penalty, for which crimes is the
death penalty supported?

Research Question 2. What impact does individual characteristics have on death


penalty support among Bosnian university students? Specifically:

(1) What is the impact of student sex?


(2) What is the impact of student age?
(3) What is the impact of years of education?
(4) What is the impact of area of study?

Research Question 3. What impact does individual experiences have on death


penalty support among university students in BiH? Specifically:

(1) Does fear of crime impact death penalty support?


(2) Does prior victimization impact death penalty support?

Research Question 4. What impact do philosophical beliefs regarding the


properties of punishment have on death penalty support among university students
in BiH? Specifically, among this sample:

(1) Is deterrence related to death penalty support?


(2) Is retribution related to death penalty support?
(3) Is modernity related to death penalty support?
(4) Is indifference related to death penalty support?

Methodology
The data used in the current study was taken from a survey distributed at the UNSA,
the largest public four-year institution operating within BiH. The survey was part of a
larger project designed to examine students’ perceptions of fear of crime and
punitivity across Europe and Asia (Kury & Winterdyk, 2013). The questionnaire,
Criminal Justice Studies 7

originally written in English, was translated by the second author, a native Bosnian/
Croatian/Serbian speaker and distributed with the assistance of third semester stu-
dents (referred to as interviewers) of the Faculty of Criminal Justice Sciences,10
UNSA, BiH. After they received an introductory lecture on survey administration, the
interviewers went to nine UNSA departments where the questionnaire was
distributed. A convenience sample methodology was employed in that all students
present in a classroom on a given day and willing to participate in the survey
completed the questionnaire. A total of 440 students across 9 departments completed
the survey in the spring of 2010. No compensation was provided for survey
participation.
Overall the sample was roughly gender symmetric (51.1% male and 48.9%
female) and Bosniak11 (78.0%). The median age was 22.44 years (SD = 2.12; range
18–35 years of age). Almost one in four (23.4%) students surveyed indicated they
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were majoring in law or criminal justice. Unfortunately it is unclear as to whether


or not the sample is representative from which the population it was drawn.12

Measures
Support for the death penalty
To assess support for the death penalty, students were first asked ‘Even if capital
punishment is NOT practiced in your country, do you support the death
penalty/capital punishment for certain crimes?’ of which students could answer
‘yes’ (coded as ‘1’) or ‘no’ (coded as ‘0’). If the student answered in the affirma-
tive, they were asked to indicate for which crime(s) they support the death penalty
(e.g. murder, rape, armed robbery, arson, treason, hostage taking, kidnapping of
children and/or young persons, human trafficking of children, act of terrorism and
selling illegal drugs).

Individual characteristics
Respondents were asked a variety of questions about their demographic background
including sex (males were coded as ‘1’ and females were coded as ‘0’), age (in
years), education (in years) and current area of study (i.e. major). For ease of inter-
pretation, area of study was recoded into a dichotomous variable to reflect whether
the student was majoring in law or criminal justice13 (coded as ‘1’) or another area
of study (coded as ‘0’).

Individual experiences
Individual experiences with victimization were measured by asking students ‘Have
you ever been a victim of a crime?’ Students who indicated they had been the vic-
tim of a crime were coded as ‘1’ while students who indicated they had not been
the victim of a crime were coded as ‘0’. Given that some research has indicated
that fear of crime is more salient than actual experiences with crime victimization,
fear of crime was also measured. On a four-point scale where ‘1’ is ‘not worried at
all’ and ‘4’ is ‘very worried’, students were asked to report how worried they are
about 9 different types of crime ranging from being sexually harassed in public to
being killed. These items were summed to create a fear of crime index (Cronbach’s
α = .900) with a higher score indicating a greater fear of crime.
8 L.R. Muftic et al.

Philosophical attitudes
Philosophical attitudes pertaining to punishment were assessed by asking students
four dichotomous questions pertaining to deterrence, retribution, modernity and
indifference. Students were asked to agree (coded as ‘1’) or disagree (coded as ‘0’)
with the following statements:

(1) Capital punishment may be wrong, but it is the best deterrent to crime.
(2) Any person, man or woman, young or old, who commits murder, should
pay with their own life.
(3) Capital punishment is not necessary in modern civilization.
(4) If does not make any difference to me if we have capital punishment or
not.
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Analytical plan
This study set out to examine the degree of support for capital punishment among
university students in BiH and what factors are related to this support. In doing so,
four sets of research questions were explored that centered around prevalence of
death penalty support, individual characteristics (sex, age, years of education and
major), experiences (prior victimization and fear of crime) and attitudes (deterrence,
retribution, modernity and indifference). Different statistical models were generated
to answer these research questions. Univariate statistics were used to assess the per-
centage of student who support the death penalty. Bivariate statistics, in the form of
independent sample t tests and χ2 tests, were calculated to examine which factors
were correlated with support of capital punishment. Finally, binary logistic regres-
sion was used to predict death penalty support among college students studying in
BiH, while controlling for individual characteristics, experiences and philosophical
attitudes. We now turn to the results from these analyses.

Findings
Support for the death penalty
We first set out to determine what percentage of university students in BiH support
the death penalty (see Table 1). Roughly half (52.7%; n = 232) of students sur-
veyed reported that they support the use of capital punishment for certain crimes.
Among those students in favor of the death penalty, the greatest support was found
for the crimes of murder (88.4%), rape (65.5%), human trafficking of children
(62.1%) and terrorism (51.7%). Fewer students reported that they support the use
of capital punishment for offenders convicted of kidnapping children and/or young
persons (32.3%) or selling illegal drugs (25.9%). Very few students indicated they
support the death penalty in cases involving armed robbery (11.2%), treason
(8.6%), hostage taking (8.6%) and arson (6.5%).

Factors that influence death penalty support


Having determined the percentage of students in support of the death penalty, we
then examined which factors were correlated with capital punishment support. As
depicted in Table 2, bivariate analyses (independent sample t tests and χ2 statistics)
Criminal Justice Studies 9

Table 1. Support for the death penalty (N = 440).


Variable Frequency Percentage
Support death penalty 232 52.7

Support death penaltya for:


Murder 205 88.4
Rape 152 65.5
Armed robbery 26 11.2
Arson 15 6.5
Treason 20 8.6
Hostage taking 20 8.6
Kidnapping children and/or young persons 75 32.3
Human trafficking of children 144 62.1
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Act of terrorism 120 51.7


Selling illegal drugs 62 25.9
a
Calculated only among those individuals who support death penalty (n = 232).

revealed several factors that were correlated with capital punishment support among
this sample, including respondent sex and prior victimization. Specifically, among
students who voiced support for the death penalty, males were significantly more
likely to favor the death penalty (57.8% compared to 42.2% of females), while
females were significantly more likely (57.2% compared to 42.8% of males) to
oppose the death penalty (χ2(1) = 9.481, p < .01). While only a small portion of
death penalty supporters had been victimized, crime victims were more likely to
support capital sentences (30.0%) than not support capital sentences (22.9%; χ2(1)
= 2.678, p < .10). Age, number of years of education, area of study and fear of
crime were not found to be significantly related to death penalty support among
this sample.

Table 2. Differences between students who support death penalty and students who do not
support death penalty (N = 440).
Support DP Do not support
Variable (n = 232) DP (n = 194) Test statistic
Individual characteristics
Percent male 57.8% 42.8% χ2(1) = 9.481**
Age in years (mean/SD) 21.5 (2.01) 21.4 (2.3) t(418) = .431
Education in years (mean/SD) 2.3 (1.1) 2.6 (1.0) t(386) = 1.361
Percent CJ/law majors 22.4% 24.7% χ2(1) = .319
Individual experiences
Percent prior victimization 30.0% 22.9% χ2(1) = 2.678
Fear of crime (mean/SD) 2.23 (.74) 2.32 (.76) t(393) = 1.231
Philosophical attitudes
Percent deterrence 55.5% 12.9% χ2(1) = 73.446***
Percent retribution 70.8% 28.2% χ2(1) = 72.006***
Percent modernity 17.5% 63.8% χ2(1) = 89.145***
Percent indifference 27.0% 52.0% χ2(1) = 25.996***
***p < .001; **p < .01; *p < .05, two-tailed.
10 L.R. Muftic et al.

In addition to respondent sex and victimization, respondents’ attitudes pertaining


to punishment were found to be correlated with capital punishment support. Stu-
dents who perceived the death penalty to be an effective deterrent against crime
were more likely to advocate death sentences (χ2(1) = 73.446, p < .001) as were
students who believed in retribution (χ2(1) = 72.006, p < .001). In contrast, students
who viewed capital punishment as not characteristic of a modern society were less
likely to support the death penalty (χ2(1) = 89.145, p < .001), as were students who
felt indifferent towards the use of capital punishment (χ2(1) = 25.996, p < .001).
To ascertain whether the findings from the bivariate analyses would hold up
controlling for other variables (i.e. individual characteristics, experiences and atti-
tudes), two binomial logistic regression were run. First, we examined the impact
that individual characteristics and experiences have on death penalty support.
Second, we examined the impact attitudes have on death penalty support, control-
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ling for individual characteristics and experiences. While results from binomial
logistic regression models produce both coefficient estimates (B) and odds ratios
(Exp(B)), for ease of interpretation we focused on the odds ratio (OR). An OR
greater than one indicates an increased likelihood that a variable is associated sup-
port for the death penalty. Alternatively, an OR less than one indicates a decreased
likelihood that the variable is associated with support for the death penalty.
As depicted in Table 3, the only variable found in the first model to predict
death penalty support was sex, with male respondents almost twice as likely to
favor capital sentences (OR = 1.705, p < .001) than female respondents. Interest-
ingly, the effect of sex on death penalty support was muted when controls for
attitudinal beliefs were added to the second model. Thus, students who adhere to
philosophies of punishment that center around deterrence (OR = 4.173, p < .001)
and retribution (OR = 2.936, p < .001) were significantly more likely to favor capi-
tal punishment even after controlling for important individual characteristics and
experiences. Attitudes of modernity (OR = .245, p < .001), on the other hand, were
found to decrease the likelihood of students supporting the death penalty. It should

Table 3. Binomial logistic regression model predicting death penalty support.


Model 2b: individual
a
Model 1 : individual characteristics, experiences &
characteristics & experiences attitudes
B SE Exp(B) B SE Exp(B)
Constant −.190 1.193 .827 −.376 1.491 .687
Male .534** .226 1.705 .311 .301 1.365
Age in years −.016 .059 .984 .021 .073 1.021
Education in years .179 .121 1.196 −.111 .168 .895
CJ/law major .099 .268 1.104 −.063 .352 .939
Previous victimization .377 .249 1.458 .151 .332 1.163
Fear of crime −.065 .150 .937 .015 .202 1.015
Deterrence – – – 1.429*** .334 4.173
Retribution – – – 1.077*** .298 2.936
Modernity – – – −1.408*** .318 .245
Indifference – – – −.477 .305 .621
a
Nagelkerke R2 = .048; X2(6) = 12.949, p < .05.
b
Nagelkerke R2 = .439; X2(10) = 120.295, p < .001.
***p < .001; **p < .01; *p < .05; one-sided.
Criminal Justice Studies 11

be noted that the Nagelkerke R2 value for the second model (Nagelkerke R2 = .439)
is considerably higher than the value for the first model (Nagelkerke R2 = .048),
highlighting the importance of looking at the effect of attitudes on death penalty
support, an often overlooked area in punitivity research.

Discussion
This study set out to assess the degree of support for the death penalty among univer-
sity students in BiH, as well as the factors that influence this support. Overall, half of
the students surveyed indicated they were in support of capital punishment for a range
of offenses including homicide, rape, crimes against children (specifically trafficking
and kidnapping) and terrorism. Among this sample, traditional correlates of punitivity
(e.g. age, education and major) were not found to be predictive of death penalty
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support, except for sex. Similar to other studies (e.g. Besserer, 2001), male students
were more likely to support the death penalty than female students. However, this
finding washed out when controls for philosophical beliefs were included. In fact, the
strongest effects found were those having to do with individually held beliefs
pertaining to punishment. While deterrence and retribution exhibited positive effects
on death penalty support, modernity exhibited a negative effect.
While an important first look into students’ attitudes about the death penalty in
BiH, this study is not without limitations. Because the results presented are drawn
from a convenience sample of university students in Sarajevo, the generalizability
of the findings may be limited. Future studies should incorporate larger more
representative samples that are extracted from the general population.
Another limitation is the manner in which death penalty support was ascer-
tained. Students were asked to report whether or not they supported the death pen-
alty (yes or no). Because ‘public opinion about capital punishment is complex and
contingent’, research that has relied on dichotomous response typically find higher
levels of support for the death penalty than do studies that utilize more nuanced
questions to gauge support (Cullen et al., 2009, p. 74). Future studies may find
differing levels of support if non-dichotomous measures are incorporated.
Relatedly, all attitudinal variables were measured by single questions, potentially
impacting the validity of said measures. While previous studies have relied upon
multiple questions to measure attitudes pertaining to philosophical attitudes pertain-
ing to punishment (e.g. Lambert, Hogan, et al., 2008), because of the data-set
employed, only single factor measures were available for the philosophical attitudes
explored. Future studies should include more nuanced measures that tap into the
multidimensionality of philosophical attitudes regarding punishment.
There were several factors not assessed in the current study that are possible ave-
nues for exploration in future studies. Research in the United States that has focused
on public attitudes toward the death penalty find that ‘racial resentments are inextrica-
bly entwined in public punitiveness’ (Unnever & Cullen, 2010, p. 99). While racial
animus is not applicable to the situation in BiH per se, it is possible that resentments
based on ethnicity are, especially considering the high degree of ethnocentrism
present in modern Bosnian society, an artifact of the war (Toal & Dahlman, 2011).
Relatedly, future studies would benefit from a consideration of the impact
crime-related media consumption may have on punitivity as prior research has
found that individuals who rely on the media for most of their information about
crime and crime policy typically hold punitive attitudes (Demker, Towns,
12 L.R. Muftic et al.

Duus-Otterstrom, & Sebring, 2008; Rosenberger & Callanan, 2011). In BiH, crime
related programming14 is widely available via cable TV and the internet and, as in
the West, extremely popular (Gorman, 2011). Thus, exploring the relationship
between different types of media, as well as different media content and the atti-
tudes towards death penalty or sentencing in general may be beneficial in BiH.
Lastly, scholars may want to explore factors associated with confidence in the
government (and more specifically the criminal justice system), incapacitation and
wrongful execution as they relate to death penalty support. This may be especially
salient in BiH considering the major shift in modes of governance in the last
20 years, the use of capital punishment during the war, as well as the current
socio-political unrest in the country (Weber & Bassuener, 2014).
Despite the exploratory nature of this study, there are several practical implica-
tions of the findings presented. This study provides what is believed to be one of the
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first known evaluations of public sentiment towards capital punishment and the
correlates of this support among university students in BiH. Public sentiment is often
cited as a reason for (or against) the death penalty (Cullen et al., 2009) and as such, is
an important avenue for research exploration. Findings presented are generally in line
with previous studies utilizing student samples in the region indicating that a
substantial portion of young adults residing in countries that once comprised the
SFRY support the death penalty (Getoš & Giebel, 2013; Meško et al., 2013;
Nikolić-Ristanović et al., 2011); a finding not that much different than in Western
Europe (Death Penalty Information Center, 2014) or the United States (Lambert,
Hogan, et al., 2008). Furthermore, deterrence and retribution were important factors
when it came to whether or not Bosnian students supported the death penalty.
Take for instance retribution, students were almost three times more likely to
support the death penalty if they believed that executing a convicted murderer
serves a retributive purpose. Bosnian students were four times more likely to sup-
port capital punishment if they believed the death penalty is an effective deterrent
to future crime. Believing that the death penalty is an effective detterent against
crime because of the severity of the offense may also explain the rather large pre-
centage of students who revealed that they supported the death penalty for crimes
other than murder including rape (65.5% of students who supported the death
penalty), human trafficking of children (62.1%) and acts of terrorism (51.7%).
Students in BiH may not be aware of research, however, that fails to find much
evidence for a general deterrent effect when it comes to the death penalty (Berk,
2005; Donohue & Wolfers, 2006; Peterson & Bailey, 1988).
From an educational standpoint, this has important implications, especially con-
sidering that students majoring in criminal justice/law were not significantly differ-
ent in their opininons than non-criminal justice/law majors. While it may not be
possible to expose all students to information regarding the death penalty, it may
be beneficial to augment required coursework within the criminal justice program
as research in the United States has found that even a single lecture on a given
topic can have a substantial impact on students’ knoweldge and opinions of that
topic (Gainey & Payne, 2003).
It is also important to point out that a sizable number of students appear to be
misinformed about the death penalty; reflective in the fact that six percent of
the sample stated the death penalty was practiced in BiH or did not answer the
question (perhaps because they did not know the answer). This is troubling because
a lack of knowledge about the death penalty and/or the criminal justice process is
Criminal Justice Studies 13

often associated with punitivity (Lane, 1997). Thus, death penalty opponents hold
fast to the idea that public support will decline if individuals are presented with the
‘truth’ about the death penalty (i.e. lack of a deterrent effect, cost, execution of the
innocent, etc.). Interestingly, when subjects are provided with sentencing alterna-
tives (e.g. life in prison without the possibility of parole) death penalty support
declines (Cullen et al., 2009). The same effects, however, are not found for knowl-
edge (e.g. that executing an offender costs more than life imprisonment; Bohm
et al., 1991; Cox, 2013; Lane, 1997). This discrepancy in findings may partially be
due to the degree at which people hold such attitudes. Cox (2013) argues that
because ‘death penalty attitudes tend to be strongly held’ they are less amenable to
change (p. 455). However, among this sample, one-third (34.5%) of students
claimed to be indifferent when it came to capital punishment; in other words, they
held no opinion for or against the death penalty. It is plausible that among these
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individuals, education about the death penalty may increase opposition.


Finally, from a policy standpoint, studying punitivity is important for no other
reason than it allows researchers to gauge the pulse of the populace and inform pol-
icy makers about the public’s attitudes and knowledge of crime and punishment
(Kury & Winterdyk, 2013). In BiH, and other post-conflict countries, this is espe-
cially salient since one condition of membership in the European Union (EU) is the
abolition of the death penalty. However, if the political climate is in favor of the
death penalty, this may derail EU membership. Thus it is imperative that a better
understanding of where the public stands when it comes to the death penalty is
uncovered.

Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.

Notes
1. Some exceptions include research conducted on law enforcement attitudes pertaining to
domestic violence (Muftić & Cruze, 2014), gender integration (Muftić & Collins,
2014) and sex trafficking (Muftić, 2013), attitudes among college students about elec-
tronic monitoring sentences (Maljević & Muftić, 2014) and attitudes among residents
of Sarajevo pertaining to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia
(Ivković & Hagan, 2006) and residents of Mostar, BiH pertaining to social reconstruc-
tion (Biro et al., 2004).
2. While there is no agreed upon definition of punitivity in the research literature, for the
purposes of this research punitivity is ‘equated with support for harsher criminal sanc-
tions and crime policies regardless of the goal behind these activities’ (Maruna & King,
2009, p. 9).
3. It should be noted that BiH has a long tradition of higher education with some of the
highest rates of citizens holding college degrees in the region before the war. Since
1995, universities and colleges in BiH have experienced unprecedented growth in
enrollment, with the number of enrolled students almost doubling between 1999 and
2011 (Branković & Branković, 2013). Several factors have been identified as the rea-
son for the increase in enrollment including the move from a state planned economy to
a market economy and the perceived need to a college education to be successful in
such an environment, high employment rates and the provision of ‘free’ education to
the majority of the population.
14 L.R. Muftic et al.

4. Sarajevo was under siege from 5 April 1992 to 29 February 1996 when the Army of
Republika Srpska finally withdrew troops from the surrounding hillsides (Andreas,
2008). The siege left an estimated 13,952 dead (14.5% of all wartime dead).
5. In BiH the last execution occurred in 1975 (Avaz, 2010).
6. In March 1993 Borislav Herak and Sretko Damjanović were found guilty of genocide,
war crimes against a civilian population and war crimes against prisoners of war by
the District Military Court in Sarajevo (Amnesty International, 2014). Herak and
Damjanović were sentenced to death by firing squad pursuant to the criminal code and
criminal procedure code of the SRF which was adopted by BiH following her indepen-
dence in 1992. Following a retrial, Damjanović was acquitted of genocide charges in
July 2002 and sentenced to a nine year prison term. Having already served nine years,
Damjanović was released. Herak was denied a retrial, although his sentence was later
commuted to a 20-year prison term. He was released in August 2012.
7. The Constitution of the Republika Srpska is available in English at http://www.vijece
narodars.net/materijali/constitution.pdf (last accessed 16 May 2014).
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8. Official gazette of RS No 49/03, changed/amended by No. 108/04, 37/06, 70/06,


73/10, 1/12 and 67/13.
9. For example, Lane (1997) found that knowledge gained from attending a corrections
course decreased punitivity among students, even after controlling for important
sociodemographic characteristics, religiosity, conservatism and fear of crime.
10. While the official name of the program is Fakulteta za kriminalistiku, kriminologiju i
sigurnosne studije (Faculty of Criminalistics, Criminology and Security Studies), it is
often referred to the Faculty of Criminal Justice Sciences in English.
11. In addition to Bosniak, students self-reported themselves as being Serb (7.7%), other
(7.0%) and Croat (6.1%). Data pertaining to ethnicity was missing for 5 cases (1.1%).
12. Despite repeated requests, we were unable to obtain student demographic data from
UNSA, although such data is collected from the student body.
13. Research in the United States indicates that criminal justice majors typically share
more punitive attitudes regarding punishment than do their peers (Farnworth et al.,
1998). As such, we decided to parse out criminal justice and law majors from the other
majors (e.g. economics, electrical engineering, Islamic theology, medicine,
mathematics, political science and philosophy) in the sample.
14. For example, the international channel FoxCrime, described on their website as an
‘entertainment channel entirely dedicated to crime and investigation’ is part of the
standard cable package available in BiH (Retrieved December 25, 2013 from http://
www.foxinternationalchannels.com/brands/fox-crime).

Notes on contributors
Lisa R. Muftic is an associate professor in the Department of Criminal Justice &
Criminology within the College of Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State University. For
the 2012–2013 academic year, she was appointed as the US Fulbright Scholar to Bosnia
and Herzegovina where she was a visiting faculty member with the Faculty of Criminal
Justice Sciences, Criminology and Security Studies at the University of Sarajevo. She has
an extensive experience in the areas of violence against women, human trafficking, and
international criminal justice issues, with special expertise regarding the situation in Bosnia
and Herzegovina. Her published scholarship has appeared in well-respected refereed journals
including Justice Quarterly, Journal of Research in Crime & Delinquency, Crime &
Delinquency, Violence Against Women, and Journal of Interpersonal Violence.

Almir Maljevic is an assistant professor of Criminal Law at the Faculty of Criminal Justice,
Criminology and Security Studies of the University of Sarajevo. As the German Academic
Exchange Service (DAAD) scholar, he spent three years at the Max Planck Institute for
Foreign and International Criminal Law in Freiburg. He has published extensively on the
issues of corruption, organized crime, and juvenile delinquency. His scholarship, written in
Bosnian, English, and German, was published by renowned publishers such as Springer and
Duncker and Humblot.
Criminal Justice Studies 15

Ljubiša Mandic is a postgraduate student of criminology at Faculty for Criminal Justice,


Criminology and Security Studies, University of Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina. His
research interests include death penalty, crimes of war, and international sentencing.

Mirza Buljubasic is a graduate of the Faculty of Criminal Justice, Criminology and Security
Studies undergraduate program at the University of Sarajevo at University of Sarajevo. His
research interests include white collar-crime, vandalism and hooliganism, and criminological
theory.

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