The Racial Components of “Race-Neutral” Crime Policy Attitudes



Past studies have found evidence of a connection between race and crime in the minds of many white Americans, but several gaps remain in our knowledge of this association. Here, a multimethod approach was used to examine more closely the racial component of whites’ support for ostensibly race-neutral crime policies. Conventional correlational analysis showed that negative stereotypes of African Americans—specifically, the belief that blacks are violent and lazy—are an important source of support for punitive policies such as the death penalty and longer prison terms. A survey experiment further showed that negative evaluations of black prisoners are much more strongly tied to support for punitive policies than are negative evaluations of white prisoners. These findings suggest that when many whites think of punitive crime policies to deal with violent offenders, they are thinking of black offenders.