Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Lorie Fridell, Ph.D.

Committee Member

John Cochran, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Mateus Rennó Santos, Ph.D.


criminal justice disparities, economic racial threat, social control, BW Income


Racial disparities in the criminal justice system are well documented. While one potential contributor to these disparities may be differential offending on the part of racial groups, another alternative or additional explanation is racial discrimination. Blalock developed racial threat theory to explain macro-level discrimination. According to this theory various forms of “threat” posed by minority populations to majority populations leads to more formal social control or disparate formal social control, such as the formal social control that is imposed by the criminal justice system. According to Blalock, “economic threat” occurs when the Black population has large or increasing economic resources that may allow them to compete with the White population for jobs, wages, and housing. Blalock predicts that this increased economic threat will lead to increased disparate formal social control. The theorist further predicts that the relationship will be moderated by the size of the Black population and have a curvilinear shape.

Using data from the US Census, the Census of Jails, and the Uniform Crime Reports for 2,092 counties, the purpose of this study was to identify whether economic racial threat affects disparate formal social control in the manner predicted by Blalock. Results from OLS regression model testing for moderation found that percent Black moderated the relationship between economic threat and disparity but not in the manner predicted by Blalock. Blalock predicted that the relationship between economic threat and formal social control would be strongest when the Black population was small and thus weaker when the Black population was large. The current study found that the larger the Black population, the stronger (not weaker) the relationship between economic racial threat and disparate formal social control. And, while Blalock predicted that the relationship would be positive, the current study found a strong negative relationship. Results examining the shape of the relationship between economic threat and racial disparities in jail incarceration identified an inverted U-shape consistent with the prediction of Blalock. A discussion of the findings, theoretical implications, and directions for future research are highlight