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Imprisoned Imperceptions: Inaccuracy in Incarceration Demographic Stereotypes
Unformatted Document Text:  Incarceration Beliefs Although this number does not necessarily correspond to what people would have said had we asked them directly about the incarceration rate of females, it is the figure that is clearly and directly implied by their other estimates. It can be considered the necessary upshot of the estimates they did provide. These figures are important because they provide some indication of people’s beliefs, albeit implicit, regarding differences in incarceration rates for different groups. Table 4 presents the implied perceived incarceration rates for all six social groups, as well as the actual incarceration rates for the groups, based on a similar calculation described in the notes for Table 4 . These data are a testament to the resounding inaccuracy of peoples’ beliefs about incarceration rates in certain social groups. Although the implied estimated incarceration rates do correlate with the actual incarceration rates, these estimates are extreme overestimations of the actual incarceration rates of these groups. This is unsurprising given the overestimated incarceration rate overall. There are apparently some groups that people feel are more likely to be incarcerated than others, particularly Blacks, Latinos, and the mentally ill. Whereas estimates for females, high school graduates, and Whites were between 9-12% (still obvious overestimates), they were considerably lower than estimates for Blacks, Latinos, and the mentally ill (which were from 23-39%). Implicitly, people seem to believe that nearly one in four Latinos and two in five Blacks are in prison. Are Students in Advanced Criminal Justice Courses More Accurate than Commuters? The next set of analyses tested the hypothesis that students in advanced criminal justice courses would provide more accurate prison demographic estimates than would train commuters. . Independent-samples t-tests compared the estimates of students in advanced criminal justice classes to participants drawn from the train station sample. Table 5 presents the train station samples’ average estimates and raw discrepancies from reality, the student samples’ average estimates and raw 18

Authors: Ragusa, Laura.
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Incarceration Beliefs
Although this number does not necessarily correspond to what people would have said had we 
asked them directly about the incarceration rate of females, it is the figure that is clearly and directly 
implied by their other estimates.  It can be considered the necessary upshot of the estimates they did 
provide.  These figures are important because they provide some indication of people’s beliefs, albeit 
implicit, regarding differences in incarceration rates for different groups.
Table 
presents the implied perceived incarceration rates for all six social groups, as well as 
the actual incarceration rates for the groups, based on a similar calculation described in the notes for 
Table 
4
. These data are a testament to the resounding inaccuracy of peoples’ beliefs about 
incarceration rates in certain social groups. Although the implied estimated incarceration rates do 
correlate with the actual incarceration rates, these estimates are extreme overestimations of the actual 
incarceration rates of these groups. This is unsurprising given the overestimated incarceration rate 
overall.  
There are apparently some groups that people feel are more likely to be incarcerated than 
others, particularly Blacks, Latinos, and the mentally ill. Whereas estimates for females, high school 
graduates, and Whites were between 9-12% (still obvious overestimates), they were considerably 
lower than estimates for Blacks, Latinos, and the mentally ill (which were from 23-39%).  Implicitly, 
people seem to believe that nearly one in four Latinos and two in five Blacks are in prison.
Are Students in Advanced Criminal Justice Courses More Accurate than Commuters?
The next set of analyses tested the hypothesis that students in advanced criminal justice 
courses would provide more accurate prison demographic estimates than would train commuters.  . 
Independent-samples t-tests compared the estimates of students in advanced criminal justice classes 
to participants drawn from the train station sample. Table 5 presents the train station samples’ 
average estimates and raw discrepancies from reality, the student samples’ average estimates and raw 
18


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