The Race of a Criminal Record: How Incarceration Colors Racial Perceptions

Publication Date:
Feb 2010
Published In:
Project Programs:
Social, Political, and Economic Inequality

In the United States, racial disparities in incarceration and their consequences are widely discussed and debated. Previous research suggests that perceptions of crime and the operations of the criminal justice system play an important role in shaping how Americans think about race. This study extends the conversation by exploring whether being incarcerated affects how individuals perceive their own race as well as how they are perceived by others, using unique longitudinal data from the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. Results show that respondents who have been incarcerated are more likely to identify and be seen as black, and less likely to identify and be seen as white, regardless of how they were perceived or identifed previously. This suggests that race is not a fxed characteristic of individuals but is fexible and continually negotiated in everyday interactions.


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