Theories of Race and Ethnic
Differences in Punishment
While theorists have explored and provided a number of explanations on the subject of racial disparity in punishment, death sentences, and death sentence outcomes, they continue to disagree over the sources of disparities. This chapter provides a brief overview of five criminological/sociological theories that attempt to explain racial disparities. It include a detailed discussion of four additional perspectives, which will serve as the foundation to the development of a new approach to the explanation of death sentence outcomes in the United States. Such theories will also be part of the foundation utilized in the derivation of hypotheses for the current study.
At the heart of normative theories is the presumption that penalties are applied by the criminal justice system primarily in relation to the seriousness of crimes committed, with the most serious legal sanctions imposed only on the most serious and violent offenders, especially recidivists. It is presumed that the administration of criminal justice treats most, if not all, offenders equally, without regard to their social standing or other personal characteristics (Blumstein, 1982; Bridges and