Thursday, December 17, 2009

Research Briefs 12-17-09: Asian-American sentencing; does death penalty deter crime?; public opinions re: crime/punishment


Research on racial and ethnic disparities in criminal punishment is expansive but remains focused almost exclusively on the treatment of black and Hispanic offenders. The current study extends contemporary research on the racial patterning of punishments by incorporating Asian-American offenders. Using data from the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) for FY1997–FY2000, we examine sentencing disparities in federal district courts for several outcomes. The results of this study indicate that Asian Americans are punished more similarly to white offenders compared with black and Hispanic offenders. These findings raise questions for traditional racial conflict perspectives and lend support to more recent theoretical perspectives grounded in attribution processes of the courtroom workgroup. The article concludes with a discussion of future directions for research on understudied racial and ethnic minority groups.

Land, K. C., Teske, R. H. C., & Zheng, H. (2009). THE SHORT-TERM EFFECTS OF EXECUTIONS ON HOMICIDES: DETERRENCE, DISPLACEMENT, OR BOTH? Criminology, 47(4), 1009-1043.

Does the death penalty save lives? In recent years, a new round of research has been using annual time-series panel data from the 50 U.S. states for 25 or so years from the 1970s to the late 1990s that claims to find many lives saved through reductions in subsequent homicide rates after executions. This research, in turn, has produced a round of critiques, which concludes that these findings are not robust enough to model even small changes in specifications that yield dramatically different results. A principal reason for this sensitivity of the findings is that few state-years exist (about 1 percent of all state-years) in which six or more executions have occurred. To provide a different perspective, we focus on Texas, a state that has used the death penalty with sufficient frequency to make possible relatively stable estimates of the homicide response to executions. In addition, we narrow the observation intervals for recording executions and homicides from the annual calendar year to monthly intervals. Based on time-series analyses and independent-validation tests, our best-fitting model shows that, from January 1994 through December 2005, evidence exists of modest, short-term reductions in homicides in Texas in the first and fourth months that follow an execution—about 2.5 fewer homicides total. Another model suggests, however, that in addition to homicide reductions, some displacement of homicides may be possible from one month to another in the months after an execution, which reduces the total reduction in homicides after an execution to about .5 during a 12-month period. Implications for additional research and the need for future analysis and replication are discussed.

Cochran, J. K., & Sanders, B. A. (2009). The gender gap in death penalty support: An exploratory study. Journal of Criminal Justice, 37(6), 525-533.

One of the more enduring observations in the study of death penalty support within the United States is the strong divide between males and females. Men have consistently shown significantly higher levels of support for capital punishment than women. This divide between males and females has appeared in nearly every survey, over time, and across a variety of methodological designs. Using data from the cumulative (1972-2002) data file for the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) General Social Surveys, this study attempted to understand the basis for this gender gap. It examined gender differences in socioeconomic status, gender inequality, gender socialization, religion/religiosity, political ideology, positions on right-to-life and other social issues, fear of crime and victimization experience, experience with the criminal justice system, philosophies of punishment, and attribution styles. The findings revealed that the effect of gender on capital punishment support continued to be robust despite controlling for the effects of all of these explanations.

Cook, C. L., & Lane, J. (2009). The place of public fear in sentencing and correctional policy. Journal of Criminal Justice, 37(6), 586-595.

Public opinion about sentencing and correctional issues has emerged in recent decades as a salient topic in criminology. Empirical studies have suggested that the public has dynamic perceptions about these criminal justice issues. Sentencing and correctional policy have become key issues confronting legislators and policymakers, as correctional budgets and public interest in these areas have increased. Despite the focus on public opinion about sentencing and corrections, previous research has largely ignored how the public feels about the role of policymakers regarding these issues, and what influences opinions about whether public fear should be an important consideration in policy decisions. The current study partly replicated the work of Cullen and colleagues by examining perceptions of crime salience, crime causation, goals of the criminal justice system, and attitudes towards imprisonment and rehabilitation. It uniquely examined perceptions about the importance of legislator consideration of a specific determinant, namely, public fear, in decision making about sentencing and correctional policy.

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