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Impact of racial stereotypes on white people's willingness to fund rehabilitation policies

The American justice system has huge racial disparities – racial and ethnic minorities, particularly those who live within Black communities, are disproportionately regulated (i.e., through crime control policies), arrested, and incarcerated. Because of this, these communities are caught in a cycle of being targeted by police and receiving harsher punitive sanctions than other community members. Previous research has found that having racialized views of crime (i.e., seeing crime as a “Black” phenomenon) can bring greater support for crime control policies (i.e., the death penalty and mandatory minimum prison sentences).

In “Follow the Money: Racial Crime Stereotypes and Willingness to Fund Crime Control Policies”, Dunbar (2020) explores how perceived racial makeup of the prison population (i.e., predominately Black or predominately White) can affect how participants opt to allocate money for a variety of crime control policies. After answering a series of questions about their perceptions of the criminal justice system, participants were told that the prison population was predominately (61%) either Black or White. They were then asked to decide how to allocate money to a variety of policies.

Dunbar (2020) found that participants in general preferred policies focused on rehabilitation than policies focused on punishment. Those who had a more racialized view of crime (i.e., believing that Blacks committed more crimes) or who had general concerns about crime and victimization were more likely to invest in policies focused on punishment than those who did not have those beliefs. The wording of the policies were important, though – participants were more likely to fund a policy described as having the purpose of “patrolling communities” than to “detect and apprehend criminals,” even though the policy was the same. Interestingly, providing information about prison populations did not impact decisions about how to fund policies.

The growing body of research surrounding the impact of racialized views of crime and support for crime control policies has several implications. Because the current policies in place disproportionately affect Black communities, as well as communities of other racial and ethnic minorities, it’s vital that we find a way to mitigate the effect of these racialized views of crime. Without a solution to this problem, we are left with our current system, which not only incarcerates racial and ethnic minorities at an alarmingly high rate, but also feeds abhorrent racial stereotypes about Black Americans and crime.

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