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Immigrant Threat and Drug Sentencing

Dr. Melanie Holland and I recently published an article in the Journal of Crime and Justice that makes a significant addition to the minority threat literature by not only examining changes in minority populations, but also changes in attitudes related to these populations. This research indicates that perceptions and attitudes may be better predictors of minority threat than population measures.

The abstract and link to the full text are found below.


The criminal justice system has increasingly been relied upon to address immigration apprehension, resulting in concerns that this institution will be abused in an effort to indirectly address this perceived social problem. The consequences of such an approach will likely extend to Latino/a populations as a result of rhetoric linking ethnicity, immigration, and crime. Despite popular theoretical frameworks suggesting that disadvantage will vary according to the size of the population and the extent of perceived threats toward this minority, many neglect attitudinal measures or fail to measure actual criminological outcomes. This project addresses this oversight by exploring potential mediating effects of attitudes on the relationship between population measures and ethnic sentencing disparities. After fitting multilevel models nesting cases within counties and states, the results indicate that there is significant variation across all levels. While greater disparities in Latino/a sentencing were found in counties with greater Latino/a populations, this relationship was nonlinear. Additionally, state level measures of immigrant threat attitudes appear to be stronger predictors of Latino/a sentencing disparities. These contextual effects are more influential than offender level ethnicity, supporting threat hypotheses and suggesting that measurement of this concept should not be limited to offender ethnicity and population characteristics alone.

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