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Saturday, June 9, 2012
Racial Bias Partially Behind Why 2,600 Juveniles Are in Jail for Life
DATA DRIVEN VIEW POINT: I posted two prior entries regarding juvenile justice. One is about the fact that there are 2,600 juveniles in the US sentenced to life behind bars. No other civilized nation does this. In the other presents evidence that jailing juveniles doesn't work. Here below is one opinion from the NY Times, among others presented, on why Race has to be a factor. Clearly, our lack of compassion and failure to understand the data on juvenile sentencing has a race based component that we need to recognize and overcome in this debate.
When minors commit violent crimes, should they be treated differently from adults? Is prison effective as a punishment or a deterrent for juveniles?Read More »
The Race Factor
Jennifer L. Eberhardt is an associate professor of psychology andAneeta Rattan is a postdoctoral research scholar at Stanford University. Their research is conducted with Carol S. Dweck and Cynthia S. Levine.
JUNE 5, 2012
Americans have accepted that juveniles are different from adults. Scientists confirm this, showing that there are significant differences in reasoning abilities, impulse control and neurological development. Courts across the country have separate justice systems for most juvenile suspects, and in 2005 the Supreme Court said that even if tried as an adult, a juvenile cannot be sentenced to death.
Now the justices are again grappling with how to punish juveniles for serious crimes. For the second time in two years, they are poised to rule on the constitutionality of sentencing juveniles to life in prison with no possibility of parole.
But as our society has scrutinized this line between juvenile and adult, there has been little discussion of how race might influence people’s perceptions of juvenile status, despite widespread and substantial racial disparities in juvenile sentencing. Consider Florida, which is the state that had most often assigned juveniles life without parole sentences in cases other than homicide. As of 2009, 84 percent of the juvenile offenders who received this sentence were African-American.
In our own work, we find that race can have a sweeping effect even when people consider the same crime. Prompting people to think of a single black (rather than white) juvenile offender leads them to express greater support for sentencing all juveniles to life without parole when they have committed serious violent crimes. Thinking about a black juvenile offender also makes people imagine that juveniles are closer to adults in their blameworthiness. Remarkably, this was true for both people who were low in prejudice and those who were high in prejudice and for both liberals and conservatives.
Thus, race has the power to dampen our desire to be merciful. This is why race must be considered in discussions about how we protect juveniles and what punishments are deemed appropriate for them. Though often overlooked, perhaps race is key to helping us understand people’s support for punitive policies more generally.