Race Justice Assessing Juveniles Perceptions Term Paper

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052 (Barkan & Cohn, p.205).

Death Penalty Attitudes of the Offender

The same literature that shows blacks are less likely to favor capital punishment shows that black offenders are more likely to support shorter sentencing and less likely to agree with capital punishment (Baker, Lambert & Jenkins, 2005). At least, this trend is evident with regard to violent crimes. When approaching individuals and asking about minor crimes, black and white attitudes were similar (Baker, Lambert & Jenkins, 2005). However, this information is to be taken with a grain of salt, because other studies of harsh punishment suggest little differences exist in the opinions of offenders with regard to violent crime and non-violent crime, and with regard to capital punishment (Tsoudis, 2000).

Weitzer (2000) suggests black male offenders (36%) are more likely to support life sentences than they are capital punishment, especially if they come from environments that are poor and where they lack direction, influence or a proper job. Areas of low socio-economic status are more likely than middle class neighborhoods to produce minority offenders that oppose the death penalty and support life in prison (Weitzer, 2000).

Death Penalty Attitudes of Juveniles

There is little data that provides concrete information about juvenile's attitudes toward the death penalty. Clearly a gap in research exists when one considers the death penalty. Further research should be conducted to identify what juvenile's think of the death penalty. Close observation may provide researchers with valuable information that can explain the support for or lack of support for the death penalty later in life.

Young (1991) is one of many researchers that note that individuals living within the United States occupy various positions and hold certain beliefs to be true based on multiple factors including their race, gender, socio-economic status, educational status and other factors. Young (1991) notes that it is individual attitudes and characteristics that is more likely to become influenced by society at large. Society for some time now has shown a marked difference of opinion between white males and black males on the subject of capital punishment, with more white males than black males supporting it.

Perhaps juveniles would best be left to side with women, who are more likely to vote neutrally or to avoid voting on such issues at al. Young (1991) brings out an important point, noting that the "structure of attitudes" may be very different, and hypothesizes that "differences in the attitude structure exist because social structural position, represented by race, influences attributions of causality and responsibility" (p. 67). Young (1991) suggests that attribution theorists suggest it is easier for people to attribute crime to a known phenomenon. If people are raised to believe that blacks are guilty and deserve capital punishment, then young adults are more likely to attribute crime to associations with black people. This is where prejudiced attitudes and behaviors may begin, and this may be the reason why so many people are split by race in their opinion of capital punishment.

It could be a case of black people trying to stop the causation theory and trying to start people on the right road of belief, which would suggest that one's potential to engage in criminal behavior, is more related to multiple causal factors including their individual attitudes and preferences, rather than to race. This same line of thinking applies to capital punishment (Young, 1991). If more people believed that white people caused crimes and more white people held lower status blue collar jobs, then it is likely that black people would vote in favor of capital punishment. Historically, Young (1991) and others (Baker, Lambert & Jenkins, 2005; Cochran & Chamlin, 2006; Bedeau & Cassell, 2004) believe that what one is, is nothing more than what one is taught to believe. If young children believe through their experiences and education that capital punishment is ok among certain people because of the color of their skin, then they will grow up into adults that believe the same thing, and go on to influence their children and their children's children.

More studies should focus on encouraging juveniles to develop their own novel theories about capital punishment. These theories should focus on the many tools or methods educators and members of the community could use to prohibit racial prejudice and help juveniles remain innocent in their thinking. Only by doing this will juveniles likely remain neutral on the subject of capital punishment, unless they are provided with evidence that would prove they should believe in supporting or opposing capital punishment outright.

Summary of the Literature

The overwhelming literature supports the notion that white males of Caucasian ancestry are more likely to support the death penalty than black males. However, this trend is not overwhelmingly prevalent yet in the juvenile or adolescent population because there is not enough evidence collected on juveniles yet.


The results of the research suggest 41% of the population of 13 to 15-year-old children did not affiliate with a specific religion. This correlates with the information gathered from the literature review which suggests that religion was not a fundamental factor in one's beliefs for or against capital punishment. Of those surveyed, roughly 31% acquired the grade level of 9-12. This suggests that most of the juveniles surveyed had at least a high-school education. The results of the literature review suggested individuals that attained a higher education were more likely to oppose capital punishment than those with little or no education. The median income of the respondents was $20,000 per year, and most of the juveniles that participated did not have young children to care for. The literature review suggests children that grow up in areas that are of lower socio-economic status are more likely to oppose capital punishment and more likely to become criminals or victims of crime (Young, 1991). However, almost 50% of the juveniles noted their parents were single, and there is much evidence in the research that shows children coming from broken homes are more likely to engage in deviant behaviors, behaviors that may eventually lead to capital punishment or life without parole. While the information from the literature review suggests race is the single most important factor that determines whether one will support or oppose capital punishment, in this case the juvenile's parental status and whether they are from a broken home seemed more a determinant of their judgment than race. Racial bias may be something adolescents pick up in school or it may be a reflection of the attitudes of their parents or the people they live with and near.

This is one reason why it is critical researchers not exclude the juvenile's attitudes and perceptions when considering capital punishment. If almost 50% of the nation's youths are at risk for criminal behavior, then it seems logical one would want to know what their attitudes were on capital punishment, and whether those attitudes affected the likelihood that they would engage in criminal activity as young adults. Interestingly in the study conducted, more juveniles on probation were likely to support the death penalty than others.

Black respondents were also more likely to respond they were for the death penalty than against it, interesting given the information collected on race and its relationship to capital punishment. In the literature review, there is evidence suggesting that most blacks would not support capital punishment and most would support shorter sentences, at least those growing up in similar socio-economic environments (Bedau & Cassell, 2004).

Just over 35% of the respondents were likely to support the death penalty sometimes, but not all of the time, a figure that correlates with research and empirical evidence collected from adults. This suggests that children may adopt the attitudes of those around them, or they may be influenced by the opinions and circumstances of their environment when young. Despite the support that existed for the death penalty, almost 30% of those surveyed opposed the death penalty in some or all cases. Almost 37% were neutral, suggesting there is an opportunity here for researchers to talk to students and juveniles about capital punishment, and encourage them not to engage in crime so they do not have to decide as adults whether capital punishment is agreeable or not. Youths are impressionable, and likely to adopt their attitudes based on the opinions of their friends, their parents and their environment as children and as they grow into young adults.

With regard to race, it is not surprising to find many in support of life in prison with restitution for the victim's families, because an overwhelming number of studies confirm that blacks and other minorities are more likely to be assigned capital punishment than whites, particularly males of Caucasian ancestry.


Most of the literature available on race relations and capital punishment prove that there is overwhelming evidence showing…[continue]

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