STANFORD (US) — If people imagine a juvenile offender to be black, they are more willing to hand down harsher sentences to all juvenile offenders, a new study reports.
As the Supreme Court considers whether to further limit sentences given to juveniles, psychologists say an offender’s race shifts support for severe punishment.
“These results highlight the fragility of protections for juveniles when race is in play,” says Aneeta Rattan, postdoctoral research scholar in psychology at Stanford University and lead author of the study, which appears this week in the journalPloS One.
Historically, the courts have protected juveniles from the most severe sentences. It has been recognized that children are different from adults—they don’t use adult reasoning and don’t have impulse control to the same degree. The Supreme Court has barred the death penalty for juveniles and, in 2010, said life without parole for non-homicide crimes violated the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Currently the court is considering two cases regarding juveniles involved in murders who were sentenced to life without parole and are weighing whether they will further limit harsh sentences for young people.
The new research was inspired, in part, by the cases most recently before the high court, says Jennifer Eberhardt, senior author of the study.
“The statistics out there indicate that there are racial disparities in sentencing juveniles who have committed severe crimes,” says Eberhardt, associate professor of psychology. “That led us to wonder, to what extent does race play a role in how people think about juvenile status?”
The study involved a nationally representative sample of 735 white Americans. Only white participants were used because whites are statistically overrepresented on juries, in the legal field and in the judiciary. (cont … Futurity.org)