Examining the Direct and Interactive Effects of Changes in Racial and Ethnic Threat on Sentencing Decisions

Xia Wang, Daniel P. Mears

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

29 Scopus citations


Minority threat theory has been used to explain sentencing decisions, but rarely has the theory's logic been assessed by examining changes in threat. Building on prior theoretical and empirical research, we develop hypotheses about the direct and interactive effects of changes in racial and ethnic threat on sentencing. We test the hypotheses using data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics' State Court Processing Statistics program and other sources. The results indicate that increased racial threat contributes to a greater probability of receiving a prison sentence when baseline levels of threat are high. Less support is found for an effect of changes in ethnic threat. We find no support for arguments that minority threat effects are greater among minority defendants, but we do find support for the argument that threat effects are greater among violent and drug offenders. We discuss the implications of the findings for theory, research, and policy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)522-557
Number of pages36
JournalJournal of Research in Crime and Delinquency
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010



  • change effects
  • racial ethnic threat
  • sentencing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology

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