According to a study done by Stanford University published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, concluded that if white people are presented with evidence of crime rate statistics that show African-Americans represent 40 percent of  the prison population, then they are  more likely to support harsher criminal policies.

From Standford:

Stanford psychology researchers Rebecca Hetey and Jennifer Eberhardt found that when white people were told about these racial disparities, they reported being more afraid of crime and more likely to support the kinds of punitive policies that exacerbate the racial disparities.

The expansion of harsh policies – such as California’s Three Strikes law and similar measures by other states – has led the United States to have the largest per-capita prison population in the world.

“Most people likely assume this must be due to rising crime rates, but the explosion in the prison population is better explained by harsh criminal justice policies,” said Hetey, a postdoctoral scholar and the lead author on the study.

Hetey and Eberhardt, an associate professor of psychology, wanted to know whether making white people aware of racial disparities in incarceration would bolster or diminish their support for draconian policies.

Their first experiment unfolded at a train station near San Francisco. A white female researcher asked 62 white voters to watch a video containing mug shots of male inmates. Some of the participants saw a video in which 25 percent of the mug shots were of black men, while others saw a video in which the percentage of black men among the mug shots rose to 45 percent.

The participants then had an opportunity to sign a real petition aimed at easing the severity of California’s three-strikes law. “It seemed like a great opportunity – a real-life political issue – to test this question of whether blacker prison populations lead people to accept these more punitive policies,” Eberhardt said.

The results were clear. Over half of the participants who’d seen the mug shots with fewer black men signed the petition, whereas only 27 percent of people who viewed the mug shots containing a higher percentage of black inmates agreed to sign. This was the case regardless of how harsh participants thought the law was.

Hetey concluded that although many people feel exposing people to the racial disparities in policies would encourage people to fight for justice, it could have the reverse effect.

“Many legal advocates and social activists seem to assume that bombarding the public with images, statistics and other evidence of racial disparities will motivate people to join the cause and fight inequality,” according to Hetey. “But we found that, ironically, exposure to extreme racial disparities may make the public less, and not more, responsive to attempts to lessen the severity of policies that help maintain those disparities.”

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  • Jenb

    Well duh, white people are not going to support anything that will negatively impact them. But if the laws impact mostly blacks, they don’t care, after all they’re not black! This type of thinking has been going on since the 1500s. Why does anyone think that their mentality has changed??

  • CoolChic

    In other news, water is wet.

  • I know this study is obvious. Yes, water is wet.

    Yet, these studies are important for one reason. We can use these studies as extra motivation for us to fight against the evil system of white supremacy. Also, studies like these refute the rhetoric from reactionaries and post racial extremists. We all know that unfair sentencing have harmed black people. That is so documented.

    • Tanielle

      Some people don’t even have the basic motivation so I don’t think these studies will give them any extra motivation to fight against anything. To be honest I think studies like this actually make some black people feel defeated because whites have all the power anyway and can and will use it to hold them back. I think it would behoove black people to change the language of their movement and the direction. Instead of fighting against white supremacy I rather fight for black agency. Focus on building within the community instead of against the system.

    • I understand your view. We should build in our community. Me personally, the system needs to be changed too. I will not have allegiance to the system unconditionally and we need revolutionary change. We can use language, but I have no issue with others publicly disagreeing with white supremacy. You have made interesting points.

    • Me

      i think the study is saying that all those studies showing how common racial prejudice is doesn’t make a dint when it comes to wp at all. basically the more you show them stats that prove bp are unfairly targeted the better they feel. so for me it seems like the only people paying attention to these studies are bp & the point of the studies is just so wp can say “i know. it’s not fair. poor you.” but they won’t change. we need to accept that they won’t change & quit spending so much time trying to change them. we need to be looking out for ourselves & not apologize for it b/c obviously that’s what they’re doing.

  • G

    The vast majority of people, who vote for stiffer criminal penalties DO NOT want this for themselves . . . but to seek control of the unknown “other”. Which in most cases, applies to people who have no real power,or perceive themselves as such.