Date of Award

12-2007

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Sociology

Major Professor

Hoan Bui

Committee Members

Lois Presser, Sherry Cable, Deborah Baldwin

Abstract

The group threat hypothesis is part of the conflict theoretical perspective, which has been one of the most dominant and useful theories in the fields of criminology and criminal justice for decades. The usefulness of this perspective relates to the understanding it provides of how the law can be used by those in power as a measure of control. The use of law as a method of control has a long history in the US society, and there are many examples from which to pull. This project examines the use of one set of laws, felony disenfranchisement legislation, to determine if these laws can be seen as a method for controlling a subgroup of the population. Historically, felony disenfranchisement legislation has been a part of the American legal system from the founding of this country. While the laws have changed many times, the constant has been an effort to disenfranchise a segment of the population deemed as dangerous and prevent such groups from participating in the political process through their votes. Using data on African American population, arrests, and incarceration, this study tests if the strictness of disenfranchisement legislation is associated with the size of African American population, as well as African American arrest and incarceration rates. Both qualitative and quantitative methods were used to understand the nature of felony disenfranchisement legislation and to determine if disenfranchisement legislation could be used as a tool to control African Americans. The qualitative analysis indicates that African Americans are more impacted by disenfranchisement laws in two regards: the criteria that leads to disenfranchisement and the requirements for vote restoration. However, the research hypotheses are partially supported by quantitative analysis. That is, while results indicate that the proportion of African Americans in a state is correlated to the strictness of a state’s disenfranchisement law, there is no relationship between the arrest and incarceration rates and either the strictness of disenfranchisement legislation or the difficulty of the vote restoration procedures. These results point to limitations of using the group threat hypothesis to understand the relationship between disenfranchisement law and criminal justice operation.

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