Wrongful Incarceration? Race differences in reported innocence among jail inmates

dc.contributor.advisorTangney, June P.
dc.contributor.authorYouman, Kerstin
dc.creatorYouman, Kerstin
dc.description.abstractThere is no question that African Americans are disproportionately represented among the incarcerated. With the current state of the literature it is unclear whether this is fully explained by higher rates of criminal behavior among African Americans relative to Whites or whether racial disparities in the justice system might partially explain the overrepresentation of African Americans. A review of the literature suggests that there may be racial bias in the justice system in need of further exploration as far as the legitimacy of such high rates of incarceration for African Americans. This study found some support for the hypothesis that there could be racially disparate rates of wrongful incarceration as indicated by several distinct forms of indirect evidence. Specifically, African Americans (N = 182) in a large suburban county jail were more likely to report that they were innocent of the current charges for which they were incarcerated relative to Whites (N = 152) in their accounts of their behavior prior to their arrest. Correlations between reported innocence (RI) and predictors of criminal behavior supported the validity of RI. Further, observed race differences in RI were robust controlling for positive impression management and socio-economic status. In terms of mean differences in predictors of criminal behavior, as expected, African Americans scored higher on self-control (a protective factor for crime) and lower on drug problems than Whites. Contrary to expectations, African Americans scored higher on psychopathy and criminogenic cognitions relative to Whites. Although it was hypothesized that race would moderate the link between psychological predictors of criminal behavior (psychopathy, criminogenic cognitions, self-control, substance use problems, and borderline personality disorder) with both official prior criminal records and future criminal behavior, interaction terms were not significant in moderated regression analyses. Nor did African Americans show a weaker relationship between lifetime history of criminal charges and self-reported undetected criminal offenses in the year following release from jail than Whites. Power was insufficient, however, to detect a small effect size for these moderated effects. Finally, self-reports of detected and undetected criminal behavior in the year after release into the community suggested that Whites are better at “getting away with crime” than African Americans. Taking together the indirect evidence of wrongful incarceration and detection of crime in this study, it appears that African Americans are more likely to be unfairly arrested and detained.
dc.subjectWrongful incarceration
dc.subjectRacial disparities
dc.subjectJail inmates
dc.subjectRace and crime
dc.subjectAfrican American
dc.titleWrongful Incarceration? Race differences in reported innocence among jail inmates
thesis.degree.grantorGeorge Mason University
thesis.degree.nameDoctor of Philosophy in Psychology


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