A new study from Stanford psychologists finds people are more likely to approve of harsher sentences for black juveniles than white offenders. A group of white test subjects were more likely to say that all juveniles should be treated as adults and given life without parole if the offender described was black. We discuss race disparities and juvenile justice.

Aneeta Rattan, postdoctoral research scholar in the Psychology Department at Stanford University
James Bell, founder and executive director, W. Haywood Burns Institute

  • Feverous

    Let’s pass a law that makes it illegal for any 2 people of the same race to have children. Within 50 years, everyone would be roughly the same “race”. Oh but wait, we’re already in the same race: The human race.

    Actually, a ballot proposition to this effect could have very interesting results!

  • Stormrussell

    Is is possible for the public to see this research directly?

    • Sure! You can find a link to the study above the comments.

      • Stormrussell

        In my haste to comment, I didn’t see this when I first started – Thanks.

      • RA

        Hmm… i didn’t see the link originally either.  Thanks for pointing it out.   And in skimming the study i find an answer to the strength of the difference question.  

         “To what extent do you support life sentences with no possibility of parole for juveniles when they have been convicted of serious violent crimes (in which no one was killed)?” (not at all “1” – extremely “6”)  Turning to our primary hypotheses, we found that participants in the Black prime condition expressed significantly more support for life without parole sentences for juveniles in non-homicide cases (M = 4.40, se = .07) than did those in the White prime condition (M = 4.18, se = .09), t(576.29) = 2.12, p<.05, Cohen’s d = .18 "So… there you go average of 4.40 vs 4.18  …  doesn't sound too terribly racist honestly.The paper itself labels the effect "modest", but worries that it will be multiplied over and over and result in vast injustices by over-represented whitey. "Although the effect sizes were modest [27], the manipulation was particularly subtle – a single word prime embedded in a passage of text – and the outcome particularly consequential – whether juveniles would be eligible for life in prison or not. If the salience of Black Americans were multiplied, as is likely the case in crime-relevant contexts [10], then might the consequences of this salience likewise be magnified? Indeed, the present research raises the possibility that being primed over and over through exposure to Black individuals or racially coded language could produce changes in judges’ and juries’ perceptions of culpability and their ensuing punitive judgments."

        • Storm Russell

          “4.40 vs 4.18” – Thanks for posting this (I don’t understand the researchers not stating this) – can you put the statistical results into layman’s English for the rest of us??

  • Blamonde, educator

    Try this same study and change the variable descriptor to “Poor Black” “Poor White” “Middle-class Black” “Middle-Class White.”

    After studying public policy, I am sure there are certain effects related to class.  When someone reads “Black” in this country, there are innate assumptions related to class.  I would think that if you specified “Middle-Class Black” and looked at reactions to “Poor White”, the significance of the results would show the bias includes class assumptions.

  • Chemist150

    There are so many things wrong with the surveys presented.  The first easy pickins is racial profiling surveys based on self-reporting.  How is the reporting differentiated.  The “system” as it were is probably perceived as white dominated, thus possibly influencing self reporting.  How would that change if white kids were reporting to a system that they perceived as black vs. white.  How would black kids self-reporting vary?  Latino?
    Persisting cultural trends influence it too.  How many have family members in jail?  Someone with close family already in jail will be less likely to self report.

  • RA


    Even when asked DIRECTLY the people running this study were not willing to characterize the strength of their findings at all!     Without strength information this is just sensationalism.

    That’s like saying we tested cars of model A (which has a top speed of 100mph)   vs  cars of model B  (which has a top speed of 101 mph.)

    Headline “Scientists find Car B significantly faster than car A!!”   
    Q: Hmm… interesting how much faster were they ?  
    A:  Oh, we won’t tell you, but we’re sure model B is faster to p <0.001 (or whatever it is).

    Q: Ok…  well does it matter ?   
    A: Oh, absolutely … we need to open a dialogue blah blah blah. 

    Uh huh.

  • Stormrussell

    Sadly, I’m not surprised the research shows that racial bias exists, especially in relation to issues of incarceration.  While overt racism and bigotry does remain, our public value today is clearly that of racial equality – yet such bias still remains (even unconsciously) – my belief is that our whole society now struggling with the much more pervasive and insidious “institutional” racism – not the racism of “I hate  all ___ (insert group).”  I also believe this is very much the case when it comes to racial perceptions (both about different groups and how different groups perceive things).  It’s much harder to address the racism generated by such things as the results of years of societal denial of equality – e.g. for years blacks were denied entry to higher education which produces a whole host of repercussions – less familiarity with the admissions process on the part of blacks reducing lower rates of success for blacks in the admissions process, less familiarity with the values and benefits of higher education, possible (if not probable) instillation of lower expectation of success for people of color on the part of college admissions staff, and on, and on, and on. 

    I’ve just heard that the opening of the show noted that only whites were surveyed, but one important part of research like that generated by the researchers of this study is to be able to show the sources of such bias – it also helps diffuse some of the racial tension if that research is conducted across racial lines.  Unfortunately, one of the conclusions that can be rapidly (even if erroneously) drawn from this more limited research, that  ‘whites are bigots,’ is very provocative when it takes white of our societal context – it’s one thing if it’s found that whites were 10% more likely to send black kids to jail than white kids – it’s another thing entirely to find that people across the board are 10% more likely to send black kids to jail (if that were to be determined in a future study). And, it says dramatically different things about where this kind of bias is generated, what to do about is, and, possibly more importantly, how to feel about it.

    I hope the researchers will expand their research and that KQED will make a point of following their expanded results.


  • utera

    Interesting how the guest dodged the issue of whether black people are disproportionately involved in crime.

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