Objective. The relationship between race and crime has been contentious, focusing primarily on offending and incarceration patterns among minorities. There has been some limited work on public perceptions of criminal punishment, and findings show that while minorities believe in the role and rule of law, they simultaneously perceive the justice system as acting in a biased and/or unfair manner. Two limitations have stalled this literature. First, research has focused mainly on criminal punishments to the neglect of noncriminal punishments. Second, most studies have not examined whether race remains salient after considering other demographic variables or discrimination and legitimacy attitudes.
Methods. Using data from 400 adults, we examine how race affects perceptions of criminal punishment and subsequent reinstatement into the National Football League in the case of Michael Vick, a star professional quarterback who pled guilty to charges of operating an illegal dog-fighting ring.
Results. Findings show that whites are more likely to view Vick's punishment as too soft and that he should not be reinstated, while nonwhites had the opposite views. Race remained significant after controlling for other variables believed to be related to punishment perceptions.
Conclusion. Attitudes toward both criminal punishment and NFL reinstatement vary across race such that there exists important divides in how individuals perceive the system meting out punishment and subsequently reintegrating offenders back into society. These results underscore that white and nonwhites perceive the law and its administration differently.