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January 16, 2008

Examining race and gender in certain violent politics crime

In part because I am finding the interaction of racial and gender issues in the 2008 campaign to be fascinating, I read with interest this new piece available through SSRN titled "Blind Justice: Seeing Race and Gender in Cases of Violent Crime."  Here is the abstract:

Racial disparities in the justice system, particularly as they relate to the death penalty, have received increasing scholarly and public-policy scrutiny recently. Comparatively little attention has been paid to the role of the defendant's sex in cases of violent crime, though research has been conducted on how the victim's sex affects court decisions.  This article seeks to extend this line of inquiry by asking how women accused of killing their spouses or non-spousal intimate partners are treated by the judicial system.  I present a theoretical framework that elucidates the impact of intersectionality and sexual stratification on structuring outcomes for women defendants in cases of violent crimes.  To test implications derived from this framework, I utilize an original data set of homicide cases from Oakland County, Michigan, from 1986 to 1988.  I find that female defendants were convicted more frequently than were male defendants, and that there is an interactive effect with race.  Further, I find that the conviction rate was higher if the victim was an alleged batterer of the defendant.  Finally, my data indicate that sentencing decisions have a clear racial aspect to them. I conclude with suggestions for future research.

Though the abstract suggests broad insights, the article's conclusion acknowledges that the data set used here is quite limited in time, location, numbers and focus.  Indeed, as the author explains, one of the article's main contributions is focus particularly on the particular violent crime of "intimate partner killing" rather than on the broader category of "stranger homicide."  (Of course, many homicides involve neither "intimate partners" or true "strangers," but that a concern for a different data coding conversation.)

Because of the narrow focus and numbers used in this data analysis, I am not sure how far the authori's findings can be extended.  To the author's credit, she emphasizes at the end that the presented data "suffer from two linked limitations: small sample size and problems of generalizability."

Finally, to the extent this author and others are giving more attention to important intersectionality issues in the criminal justice context, I hope class concerns will be brought more fully and forcefully into the analysis.  Though both race and gender can play large roles in the actual administration of justice in this country, I strongly believe that socioeconomic realities will often eclipse (and dynamically interact with) these other factors in profound ways.

January 16, 2008 at 07:25 AM | Permalink


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Yes, one wonders what the n is for this sample and whether the author bothered to do a power analysis.

Posted by: Steve | Jan 16, 2008 9:06:52 AM

Very little of any substance here--the imperious title alone does the author's work--implying without justification that women and racial minorities do not get a fair shake.

Posted by: practitioner | Jan 16, 2008 11:52:30 AM

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