Vol. 1 No. 2 (2024): Abolitionist Perspectives in Social Work

Carceral Justification: Scale Development and Initial Validation

Kristen Brock-Petroshius
Stony Brook University
Brian TaeHyuk Keum
Boston College

Published 02/27/2024


  • carceral attitudes,
  • public opinion,
  • system justification,
  • carceral logics,
  • measure


Black-led social movements have demanded sweeping changes to the criminal legal system by advancing abolitionist goals. Public attitudes about the criminal legal system influence what policy agendas are developed, legitimated, and implemented. In order to assess influences on such attitudes, there is a need for research that examines the underlying carceral logics people use to inform their opinions toward anti-carceral policy proposals. Applying System Justification Theory and a framework of carceral logics, we developed the Carceral Justification Scale (CJS) using data collected from 1,394 Alameda County, California registered voters. Items were developed via literature review, qualitative analysis of canvasser conversations, and expert review. Exploratory (N = 461) and confirmatory (N = 463) factor analyses suggested an oblique 2-factor structure and produced 6 items with the following factors: (a) System Works, and (b) System Necessary. Internal consistency estimates were .71 and above and the scales accounted for 28% and 27% of variance, respectively. Initial construct validity was established as CJS scores were associated with racial resentment, system justification, political ideology, and anti-Black bias awareness in ways consistent with theory. This measure is useful for the evaluation of community practice political interventions that aim to increase support for abolitionist policies.