‘Would You Prefer Jail or Probation?’ Differences in Sanctioning Preferences among White, Black, and Latinx Adults

AuthorEric J. Wodahl,Leanne Fiftal Alarid,John H. Bowman
Published date01 September 2022
Date01 September 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Would You Prefer Jail or
in Sanctioning
Preferences among
White, Black, and
Latinx Adults
Eric J. Wodahl
Leanne Fiftal Alarid
and John H. Bowman, IV
Research on perceptions of sanction severity reveals a gap between White
and Black respondents in terms of their preferences for incarceration com-
pared to alternative punishments. Little is known, however, about Latinx
preferences. Using a sample of jail inmates, we explore differences across
White, Black, and Latinx respondents in terms of their preferences for incar-
ceration versus probation, as well as the factors that relate to these prefer-
ences. Findings show that White respondents prefer probation far more
frequently than Black and Latinx respondents. Additionally, factors which
relate to sanctioning preferences for Whites are fundamentally different
than those for Black and Latinx adults.
perceptions of sanction severity, latinx, race and ethnicity, jail, probation,
crime sanctions
University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY, USA
University of Texas at El Paso, TX, USA
Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green OH, USA
Corresponding Author:
Eric J. Wodahl, University of Wyoming Department of Criminal Justice & Sociology,
1000 E. University Ave, 303 A&S Building, Laramie, WY, 82071, USA.
Email: ewodahl@uwyo.edu
The Prison Journal
2022, Vol. 102(4) 395416
© 2022 SAGE Publications
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/00328855221109799
Over the last three decades, a substantial body of research known more
recently as penal consciousness(Sexton, 2015) has emerged and increased
our understanding of how individuals in the justice system subjectively per-
ceive the severity or punitiveness of various criminal sanctions. Spurred by
the mass implementation of intermediate sanction programs at the close of
the 20
century, this research has focused primarily on understanding how
individuals view the severity of alternative sanctions to spending time in
prison or jail. In general, these studies have revealed that traditionally held
beliefs about the continuum of sanctions that place community-based punish-
ments at the low end of the punitiveness scale and incarceration at the high
end are too simplistic (Crouch, 1993; Petersilia & Deschenes, 1994;
Spelman, 1995; Wood & Grasmick, 1999). As one example of this, a study
by Crouch (1993) found that a substantial portion of prison inmates in
Texas would choose spending time in prison over a probation sentence.
Similarly, a study by Wood and Grasmick (1999) revealed that prison
inmates in Oklahoma viewed a variety of community-based sanctions as
being more punitive than prison, including day reporting, intensive supervi-
sion probation (ISP), and electronic monitoring.
A durable f‌inding in the punishment severity research is that there appears
to be a high degree of variability across individuals in terms of how they per-
ceive the punitiveness of correctional sanctions. In turn, this has naturally led
researchers to examine the factors that inf‌luence these perceptions (May &
Wood, 2010; Sexton, 2015). Findings suggest that perceptions of punitive-
ness may be inf‌luenced by variety of demographic, experiential, and attitudi-
nal factors. Studies have found that individuals who are female, younger, and
more highly educated tend to view community-based punishments more
favorably (Irizarry et al., 2016; May & Wood, 2005; May et al., 2005;
Wood & Grasmick, 1999). There is also evidence that individuals who
have greater experience with serving time in prison and jail are more likely
to perceive community-based punishments as being more punitive than incar-
ceration (Crouch, 1993; May et al., 2005; Spelman, 1995).
In addition to these factors,people of color perceive the severity of incarcer-
ation differently than participating in community-based punishments
(Applegate, 2014; Crouch, 1993; Irizarry, May, Davis, & Wood, 2016; May
et al., 2005; Spelman, 1995). Studies have consistently revealed that people of
color view community-based sanctions lessfavorably than their white counter-
parts af‌inding whichwe devote some attention to in the next pages. However,
the vast majority of this research has focused narrowly on Black versus White
comparisons with little consideration for how other racial/ethnic groups, such
396 The Prison Journal 102(4)

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