Shared Race/Ethnicity, Court Procedural Justice, and Self‐Regulating Beliefs: A Study of Female Offenders

Published date01 June 2015
Date01 June 2015
Shared Race/Ethnicity, Court Procedural Justice,
and Self-Regulating Beliefs: A Study of Female
Thomas Baker Justin T. Pickett
Dhara M. Amin Kristin Golden
Karla Dhungana Marc Gertz
Laura Bedard
Using survey data from a sample of w hite, black, and Hispanic inc arcer-
ated females (N 5554), we exam ine if the theoreticall y hypothesized and
empirically demonstr ated relationship betw een procedural justice an d
obligation to obey the l aw is substantiated among a sample of offenders
and explore the impact t hat sharing the race/ethnic ity of the defense
attorney and prosecuto r in their most recent con viction has on female
inmates’ perceptions of co urt procedural justice and t heir perceived
obligation to obey the law. The findin gs reveal that female off enders who
perceive the courts as mo re procedurally just r eport a significantly gr eater
obligation to obey the law. In additio n, white female inmates who h ad a
white prosecutor were si gnificantly more likely to p erceive the courts
as procedurally just. N on-whites, though, perce ive the courts as more
fair if they encountered a m inority prosecutor reg ardless of whether the
prosecutor was black or Hispanic.
Prior research demonstrates the effectiveness of procedural
justice for securing the public’s perceived obligation to obey the
law (Jackson et al. 2012; Mazerolle et al. 2013; Reisig et al. 2012;
Sunshine and Tyler 2003; Tyler 2006; Tyler and Huo 2002; Wolfe
2011). This finding is important because it indicates that criminal
justice actors’ authority and ability to secure public compliance
may be strongly tied to the fairness of the procedures they use—
a factor authorities have some control over (Mazerolle et al.
2013; Sunshine and Tyler 2003). There remain, however, several
areas for additional exploration in the extant literature on
process-based models of regulation.
First, previous studies assessing the impact of procedural jus-
tice on people’s obligation to obey the law have focused almost
exclusively on perceptions of police, devoting far less attention to
Please direct all correspondence to Thomas Baker, Department of Criminal Justice,
University of Central Florida, P.O.Box 161600, Orlando, FL 32816-1600;
Law & Society Review, Volume 49, Number 2 (2015)
C2015 Law and Society Association. All rights reserved.
perceptions of the courts (Mazerolle et al. 2013; Sunshine and
Tyler 2003). This is surprising because, as Garland (1990: 71–72)
has explained, the contemporary courtroom is “the forum where
justice is done” and “a ritual in which society as a whole is
deemed to participate.” As such, the perceived fairness of court
procedures may play a particularly important role in legitimizing
or delegitimizing the authority of the law in the eyes of both the
public and offenders. In addition, there are reasons to expect
that prior findings concerning the police may not generalize to
the courts. Prior research, for example, suggests that people’s
perceptions of police are consistently and substantially more posi-
tive than their perceptions of the courts, which likely reflects citi-
zens’ greater familiarity and contact with police (Roberts and
Hough 2005). Indeed, Tyler (2006) found that individuals rely
more heavily on procedural justice perceptions when evaluating
perceptions of the courts versus perceptions of the police. There
are also factors unique to court processing—such as the type of
attorney (private versus public) representing the defendant and
plea-bargaining negotiations—that may influence court proce-
dural justice perceptions. Thus, we explore the antecedents of
people’s perceptions of the courts and how they may uniquely
impact people’s obligation to obey the law.
Second, existing theoretical scholarship suggests that racial or
ethnic identification with criminal justice actors—that is, sharing
the racial or ethnic characteristics of legal authorities—may result
in more positive assessments of those authorities (Tyler and Huo
2002; Weitzer and Tuch 2006). Much of this work extends from
the theoretical propositions of the group-value model which sug-
gest that being able to identify with an authority may increase
perceptions of status which in turn increases perceptions of pro-
cedural justice (Lind and Tyler 1988). Yet empirical evidence
about this hypothesized relationship is scarce, and the findings
from the handful of studies that have explored the issue have
been mixed (Kelleher and Wolak 2007; Scherer and Curry 2010;
Sharp and Johnson 2009; Tyler and Huo 2002). Thus, there is a
question as to whether the diversification of criminal justice
organizations, done in part to enhance the legitimacy of those
organizations among minorities, is actually effective. For example,
an alternative perspective extending from critical race theory
opez 2003) suggests that any support for institutions
such as the criminal justice system which historically have pro-
tected the rights of whites over minorities is tantamount to sup-
porting white hegemony. As such, interacting with non-white
legal authorities may do little to enhance minorities’ perceptions
of the criminal justice system. Thus, this study further investi-
gates the impact of shared racial identity within the criminal
434 A Study of Female Offenders
justice system by examining how sharing one’s race/ethnicity with
court actors affects individuals’ perceptions of the courts and
their obligation to obey the law.
Third, this study builds on the small but growing body of lit-
erature that examines what is known about both the racial corre-
lates and potential consequences of procedural justice
perceptions among persons who are actually embedded in a
criminal lifestyle and at a high risk for future offending, such as
inmates (for example, see Casper, Tyler, and Fisher 1988; Fagan
and Piquero 2007; Papachristos et al. 2012; Piquero et al. 2005).
Likely because of the difficulties in gaining access to and survey-
ing inmates (Pickett et al. 2014), previous investigations have
focused almost exclusively on either the general public or on
minor offenders, such as persons stopped for traffic violations or
tax offenders (Murphy 2004 2005; Tyler 2006). In addition, the
existing studies that explore offenders’ procedural justice percep-
tions have largely concentrated on male inmates’ views about the
staff and processes of correctional facilities (Beijersbergen et al.
2014; Henderson et al. 2010; Reisig & Me
sko 2009) with fewer
studies examining female offenders (Tatar et al. 2012). We fur-
ther develop this literature by examining female inmates’ views
about court procedural justice.
This study addresses these gaps in the literature using data
from a survey of female inmates incarcerated at the largest
female correctional facility in Florida. The survey included meas-
ures of the racial/ethnic characteristics of the court actors with
whom the inmates interacted, and the inmates’ perceptions of
court procedural justice and obligation to obey the law. Our focus
on female offenders is important because they have received less
attention in research than male offenders (Belknap 2007), yet the
proportion of serious crime committed by female offenders has
increased in recent decades (Lauritsen et al. 2009). In the sec-
tions that follow, we review the theoretical work that informs our
analyses as well as the relevant prior research, after which we
describe our methodology and discuss the results of our study.
Theoretical Background and Prior Research
Procedural Justice and the Role of Voice
A key assumption on which theories of procedural justice are
based posits that regardless of the outcome, individuals may per-
ceive the process of an interaction as just if certain procedural cri-
teria are met (Lind and Tyler 1988; Thibaut and Walker 1975;
Tyler 1994). In other words, how a decision is made may be as
important to individuals as the actual decision. Just procedures
Baker,Pickett, Amin, Golden, Dhungana, Gertz, & Bedard 435

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