In criminal justice, a general belief in the possibility of restitution reduces punishment and increases support for policy measures such as rehabilitation, deletion, housing, and employment. In a new study, researchers examined the effects of racial attitudes on exculpability — the belief that offenders can change and go on to live law-abiding lives. Belief in redeemability was high for criminals in general as well as for black criminals, but white nationalism diminished white people’s beliefs in redeemability of black criminals.
The study was conducted by Leah C. Butler, incoming assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Cincinnati (UC), Frances Cullen, professor emeritus of criminal justice at UCLA, and Filmer S. Burton, of the Center for Justice and Communities at the University of Cincinnati. University of California. appears in the magazine Criminology.
“Racial attitudes influence a range of criminal justice policy views, with racial hostility playing a role in nearly all criminal justice policy preferences,” explains Butler, who led the study. “But the effects of these attitudes on individuals’ beliefs about redemption and conviction have not been fully explored, particularly in the context of black people who have committed crimes.”
In their study, the researchers sought to determine whether the offenders’ race affected the degree to which community members believed the offenders could earn or deserve salvation.
Using data from a 2019 YouGov survey of a national sample of more than 750 white adults in the United States, researchers estimated the effects of racial resentment, racial sympathy, and white nationalism on three measures of belief in the possibility of redemption: a race-neutral measure of belief in the possibility of redemption of black offenders, and a measure of belief in the possibility of redemption of black offenders. To convict black criminals.
The study also addressed the demographics of the respondents (age, gender, education, work, marital status, and geographical area), political affiliation, cultural beliefs (religious affiliation, religiosity, and equality), and the occurrence of crime and threat in the lives of individuals.
Belief in recoverability was high, both for offenders in general and for black offenders, with 70 to 80 percent of respondents agreeing that offender reform is possible and should be valued.
The researchers then used data from a 2022 YouGov survey of nearly 1,500 white adults in the United States, and found similar results. Racial sympathy and white nationalism had significant effects across all three outcomes, with the effect of white nationalism on black offender conviction being the largest across the three models.
“Our findings indicate that although most white people in the United States agree that previously incarcerated individuals are redeemable, racial attitudes influence these beliefs, especially for black offenders,” notes Butler.
The findings have implications for policy, the authors suggest. Policies based on redemption (eg, hiring people with criminal convictions, removing voting rights restrictions) require public support, so the effects of racial sympathy and white nationalism on belief in the possibility of redemption can inform how policymakers and reformers design policies to maximize General support.
“Our work highlights that race and its effects in the United States are dynamic rather than static,” says Butler. “This is why we went beyond the concept of racial resentment to visualize and measure distinct racial attitudes that might contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of how adults in the United States think and feel about race.”
Leah C.Butler et al, Racial Attitudes and Belief in the Possibility of Redemption: Most Whites Believe Justice Can Change Engaging Blacks, Criminology (2023). DOI: 10.1111/1745-9125.12331
Provided by the American Criminological Society
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