Racial Typification and Support for Harsh Punitive Policies

Kelly Welch, Florida State University
Ted Chiricos, Florida State University
Marc Gertz, Florida State University

ABSTRACT
The explosive growth of prison populations, the proliferation of mandatory sentencing statutes, and the expanded use of the death penalty are among the indicators of a well-documented surge of punitiveness in American criminal justice. Also well documented is the strong popular support for punitive policies. It has been hypothesized that some portion of the greater willingness to punish criminals is linked to the general perception that crime is disproportionately committed by black males. Using nationwide survey data (N = 900) collected in spring 2002, we first assess the extent to which specific crimes are perceived to be committed by blacks, whites and Hispanics, and the extent to which media are thought to represent crime in racial and ethnic terms. Next, we assess whether people who perceive crime to be disproportionately committed by blacks and Hispanics are more willing to support harsh punitive measures. To do this we use OLS regression with controls for other factors that have been shown to predict punitiveness and we disaggregate the analysis for respondents with different demographic characteristics.

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Updated 05/20/2006