Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race

Pickett, Justin T.*, and Stephanie Bontrager Ryon.


Michelle Alexander argues that carceral inequality and mass incarceration together have created a “new racial caste system” in America (2010, p. 11). She contends that only a race-conscious social movement that engages both legal actors and the public can dismantle this system of racial control. Unfortunately, very little research has examined views about carceral inequality. Little is known about the attitudes of juvenile and criminal justice workers. We build on and integrate three literatures—scholarship on the framing perspective, comparative conflict theory, and group position theory and racial ideology—to develop a theoretical model of attitudes toward carceral inequality. We hypothesize that race influences the resonance of attributional frames, especially criminal injustice frames, but endorsement of these frames represents the primary factor shaping judgments about whether carceral inequality is a social problem (propriety, urgency, severity and policy frames). For several decades, framing efforts have been underway aimed at mobilizing JCJW to reduce racial disparities in the juvenile justice system. And most offenders first have contact with the state as juveniles. Accordingly, to test our theory, we analyze data on views about carceral inequality in the juvenile justice system—or disproportionate minority contact—among a nationwide sample of justice workers (N = 543). The findings show that race is strongly associated with attributional frames about carceral inequality, and is indirectly related, through attributional frames, to endorsement of propriety, urgency, severity, and policy frames about carceral inequality.

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* Denotes CSDA Associates, Affiliates, and Staff