Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Chae M. Jaynes, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Richard K. Moule Jr., Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jacqueline G. Lee, J.D., Ph.D.


incarceration, probation, race


Research has consistently found an association between race and relative perceptions of incarceration severity. Black people view incarceration as less severe than an equivalent period of probation. However, few studies have examined why this relationship exists. The present study surveys a large sample of young adults to examine whether the observed relationship between race and incarceration severity can be replicated. In doing so, the study then considers whether constructs related to socioeconomic status, criminal system experiences, perceptions of legitimacy, and sanction attitudes explain the racial divide. Results indicate a significant relationship between race and incarceration severity, such that Black people, do indeed, view incarceration as less severe than probation compared to Non-Black people. Socioeconomic status, perceptions of legitimacy and sanction attitudes confound the relationship. Specifically, the ability to obtain a loan, legal antipathy, rationales for avoiding probation, and rationales for participating in probation confounded the observed association between race and perceptions of incarceration severity. Prior criminal system experiences did not confound the relationship. The present study’s findings have implications for understanding perceptions of severity and incarceration’s ability to deter people from committing crime.