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Colleen Margaret Berryessa

Assistant Professor, Rutgers University-New Brunswick
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About Colleen

Berryessa's research, utilizing both quantitative and qualitative methods, examines discretion in the criminal justice system and how it may affect responses to criminal offending, specifically in courts. Overarching theme's in Berryessa's writings include how social contexts and societal attitudes toward psychiatric disorders and research on biological influences to behavior may affect the justice process and legal decision-making.


"When a Sex Offender Wins the Lottery: Social and Legal Punitiveness toward Sex Offenders in an Instance of Perceived Injustice" (with Chaz Lively). Psychology, Public Policy, and Law (2019).

Presents a series of studies examining reactions to a sex offender acquiring random fortune. Finds that the stigma of criminality, as opposed to child sex crimes, plays a bigger role in subjects' interest in punitive feelings towards the offender.

"The Psychopathic “Label” and Effects on Punishment Outcomes: A Meta-Analysis" (with Barclay Wohlstetter). Law and Human Behavior 43, no. 1 (2019): 9-25.

Compares cases of punishment of offenders based on having a psychopathic label. Finds significant changes in the type of punishment and rehabilitation between offenders with a psychopathic label compared to one with no mental health diagnosis, but weak differences between those with a label and those with another mental health diagnosis.

"Judicial Stereotyping Associated with Genetic Essentialist Biases toward Mental Disorders and Potential Negative Effects on Sentencing" Law & Society Review 53, no. 1 (2018): 202-238.

Examines judges' verdicts on mental health cases in which the condition in question has a genetic component. Finds that judges are more likely to issue harsh punishment when the condition is (or is perceived to be) genetic. Finds three intervening conditions (personal experience with genetics, belief in determinism vs. free will, a lack of personal experience in mental health) that influence these decisions.

"The Effects of Psychiatric and "Biological" Labels on Lay Sentencing and Punishment Decisions" Journal of Experimental Criminology 14, no. 2 (2018): 241-256.

Evaluates criminal sentencing decisions in the presence of labels for psychiatric and "biological" conditions. Finds that psychiatric labels reduce punitive sentencing, but that most biological labels do not.

"Jury-Eligible Public Attitudes toward Biological Risk Factors for the Development of Criminal Behavior and Implications for Capital Sentencing" Criminal Justice and Behavior 44, no. 8 (2017): 1073-1100.

Surveys public opinion to find how biological risk factors affect support for the death penalty. Finds that biological risk factors do not affect the decision to use the death penalty or not, but finds a small but significant impact of risk factors on perceptions of a criminal's moral responsibility for their acts.

"Brief Report: Judicial Attitudes Regarding the Sentencing of Offenders with High Functioning Autism" Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 46, no. 8 (2016): 2770-2773.

Conducts an interview sample of California judges. Finds that they consider high-functioning autism both mitigating and aggravating, and that such a diagnosis helps the judges surveyed understand why a certain act was committed.