Friday, May 11, 2007

Larry Bobo on Race and Punishment

Next Tuesday, author and professor Larry Bobo will deliver the UW's Walker-Ames Lecture Of Punitiveness and Prejudice: Racial Attitudes and the Popular Demand for Harsh Crime Policies. Tues., May 15, Kane Hall, Rm. 120, 6:30-8:00.

Lawrence D. Bobo is Martin Luther King Jr. Centennial Professor and Director, Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity and Program in African and African American Studies, Stanford University.

The program announcement says:

Tough anti-crime policies now enjoy deep wells of popular support. This taste for punishment coincides with a law and order policy regime that has resulted in the heavily disproportionate incarceration of minorities, especially of African Americans.

This research poses the question of whether anti-black racial prejudice is a significant component of the public demand for tough law and order policies. Using data from the 2001 Race, Crime and Public Opinion Study, the research assesses the connection of three different measures of racial prejudice­stereotypes (trait ratings), affect, and racial resentment­on support for the death penalty, three strikes laws, and trying juveniles as adults.

The prejudice hypothesis is pitted against several rival hypotheses about the sources of public opinion on crime including: (1) actual levels of violent crime, (2) fear of crime, (3) group threat (percent black), (3) social disorder (percent black in poverty), (4) political and religious conservatism, and (5) common sense or lay attributions for crime.

The results show a large and consistent impact of racial resentment on support for punitive crime policies. A small part of this effect reflects an overlap with individualistic lay attributions about the causes of criminal behavior. However, none of the other rival hypotheses weaken the impact of prejudice on punitive crime response attitudes. We discuss the theoretical and practical implications of the results.

What are the demographics of the prison population in Washington? What are the national averages?
  • White -- WA 62.6% ... USA 48.3%
  • Black -- WA 19.6% ... USA 48.3%
  • Hispanic -- WA 10.2% ... USA 9.8%
  • North American Indian -- WA 4.1% ... USA 3.3%
  • Asian -- WA 3.1% ... USA 1.8%
  • Unknown/Other -- WA 0.4% ... USA 0.7%
  • Male -- WA 91.1% ... USA 92.9%
  • Female -- WA 8.9% ... USA 7.1%
Source: Washington State Department of Corrections, April 2007.

Photo from FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, Dec. 2004.

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