Reconsidering the Relationship Between Race and Self-Reported Crime

Bradley R.E. Wright, University of Connecticut

ABSTRACT
One of the most studied issues in recent criminology has been the relationship between race and crime, particularly comparing whites and African-Americans. Many studies have focused on the high crime rates of African-Americans, seeking to explain these rates as resulting from either more frequent criminal behavior by African-Americans, differential responses by the criminal justice system, methodological artifacts, or some combination of the above. This paper, however, takes a different approach in conceptualizing the issue of race and crime in that it explores causal mechanisms through which being African-American actually decreases criminal behavior. Specifically, I identify a handful of social-psychological variables that negatively mediate the relationship between race and crime such that they result in African-Americans committing less crime. For example, African-Americans have high levels of religious participation and strong family ties, relative to whites, both of which reduce criminal behavior. Using data from the National Youth Survey, I find empirical support for the existence of these mediating variables that decrease crime among African-Americans. I also find mediating variables that increase crime among African-Americans. Conceptually, then, these finding move us away from asking why (or if) African-Americans have higher rates of crime, and they steer us to a more general, and probably more fruitful, question of the multifaceted causal relationship between race and crime.

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Updated 05/20/2006