On June 30, 2022, Michael G. Miller, assistant professor of political science, published research in Public Opinion Quarterly. The article, titled, “Race, Crime, and the Public’s Sentencing Preferences,” investigates the factors that influence whether criminal defendants of different races are punished with the same level of severity.
The researchers organized an experiment where respondents indicated what they viewed as an appropriate sentence for a series of hypothetical individuals convicted of federal crimes. The experiment signaled the race of the defendant by using distinctively “Black” and “white” names, making it more apparent in an effort to assess whether Americans are more punitive toward purportedly Black defendants. The findings indicate that respondents who exhibit signs of high racial resentment assign longer sentences to Black defendants, while respondents who appeared to believe that racism is a problem assigned shorter sentences to those same hypothetical defendants.
Other than this outcome, little evidence displayed a signal of the defendants’ race moderating the effects of other characteristics of the crime and defendant. The researchers’ approach and findings not only offer insights into how racial attitudes shape perceptions regarding what constitutes just punishment for crimes in the contemporary U.S., but also demonstrate a novel approach to studying this domain.