Table of Contents
Journal of Criminology
Volume 2014, Article ID 983026, 7 pages
Review Article

Racial Threat Theory: Assessing the Evidence, Requesting Redesign

Department of Sociology, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, 337 Frank Porter Graham Building, P.O. Box 26170, Greensboro, NC 27402-6170, USA

Received 3 April 2014; Accepted 22 June 2014; Published 9 July 2014

Academic Editor: Augustine Joseph Kposowa

Copyright © 2014 Cindy Brooks Dollar. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Racial threat theory was developed as a way to explain how population composition influences discriminatory social control practices and has become one of the most acknowledged frameworks for explaining racial disparity in criminal justice outcomes. This paper provides a thorough review of racial threat theory and empirical assessments of the theory and demonstrates that while scholars often cite inconsistent support for the theory, empirical discrepancies may be due to insufficient attention to the conceptual complexity of racial threat. I organize and present the following review around 4 forms of state-sanctioned control mechanisms: police expenditures, arrests, sentencing, and capital punishment. Arguing that the pervasiveness of racialization in state controls warrants continued inquiry, I provide suggestions for future scholarship that will help us develop enhanced understanding of how racial threat may be operating.