Race, Gender, and County Context in Support for Harsh Punishments across the U.S.
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In this paper, I use data from the General Social Survey, F.B.I. Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics, the U.S. Census Bureau, and other sources to consider differences in attitudes about punishment among blacks and whites, and men and women, as well as how these differences vary according to three county-level characteristics: crime rates, racial composition, and race- and gender-based income equality. In conducting this research, I am guided by the presumption that previously observed race and gender gaps in punitive attitudes are a function of the different social positions these groups occupy in relation to the criminal justice system, and that these social positions vary according to context. Since past work suggests different race- and gender-based attitudinal gaps according to the form of punitiveness under consideration, I employ two measures of this concept: support for the death penalty and attitudes about the harshness of courts. Analyses provide some evidence that race, gender, and context interact to shape attitudes about punishment, and that the observed attitudinal variation differs according to the measure of punitiveness. Overall, this research improves our understanding of group differences in punitive attitudes and of the cultural context in which the U.S. system of incarceration operates. Since attitudes can influence political voting (Greenwald et al. 2009) and behaviors while serving on criminal juries (Fitzgerald and Ellsworth 1984; Moran and Comfort 1986), this work can also provide insight about how we might expect the criminal justice system to evolve in the future.
- Sociology