I enrolled in a Coursera course titled ‘Data Science + Analytics’ to gain some training. The first lesson, Steps in Data Analysis requires a blog post for getting a research project started so this is my post.

For the course, I choose to work with the Outlook on Life Survey (OOL) after a review of the various codebooks available. Given the current political environment I think it will be interesting to mine the political and social attitudes in the U.S. from August and December of 2012 - the period covered by the surveys. I also find it interesting that the data is available exclusively for use in this course.

Demographic variables in the data set include race ethnicity, age, gender, religious involvement, sexual orientation, annual income, and education. The survey examined ways that social class, ethnicity, marital status, feminism, religiosity, political orientation, sexual behavior, and cultural beliefs or stereotypes influence opinion and behavior. Questions pertained to voting preference, party identification, respondent perception of opportunity for success, and views on interracial dating among others.

I am interested in exploring feelings about the criminal justice system and whether a belief that blacks and other minorities are treated the same as whites is associated with socio-economic status or religious beliefs.

Personal Codebook

Preparing a codebook of my own from the full codebook which is 421 pages will be an ongoing process.

A few obvious questions/items/variables directly from the codebook that I will include:

  • W1_K4: On a seven-point scale, do you think that blacks and other minorities are treated the same as whites in the criminal justice system or do not receive equal treatment?

  • W1_K1_A [The government in Washington ]: How much do you think you can trust the following institutions?

  • W1_K1_B [The police ]: How much do you think you can trust the following institutions?

  • W1_K1_C [The legal system ]: How much do you think you can trust the following institutions?

  • W1_M1: What is your religion?

  • W1_M5: How often do you attend religious services?

  • W1_M2: What was the racial makeup of your place of worship?

  • W1_M3: Churches or places of worship should be involved in political matters.

Identifying a second topic to explore will also be ongoing in the coming days. But certainly investigating how economic status (household income, housing type, stock market participation, etc.) play a role could be interesting.

There are several questions/items/variables from the codebook related to this:

  • W1_P15 Do you personally, or jointly with a spouse, have any money invested in the stock market right now—either in an individual stock or in a mutual fund?

  • W1_P16E [Food Stamps] Check any box to designate from other sources of income you or anyone in your household may have received in 2011.

  • W1_P20 Which of the following income groups includes YOUR personal annual income (Do not include the income of other members of your household)?

Literature Review Summary

Two searches defined below were done using Google Scholar and several citations from each search were selected as relevant to my topic of interest. The selected citations support the idea that religious beliefs influence views on the criminal justice system but none of the reviewed citations show a link to belief that the system is fair or not.

Google Scholar Searches

Using the search terms “criminal justice system religious beliefs” at Google Scholar yielded the following select citations:




Although research typically has failed to establish a relationship between religious affiliation and correctional attitudes, recent assessments have revealed that fundamentalist Christians tend to be more punitive than are nonfundamentalists. These studies have advanced our understanding considerably, but their conceptualization of religion and correctional attitudes has been limited. Using a statewide survey, the present study demonstrates that compassionate as well as fundamentalist aspects of religious beliefs are related to public correctional preferences. Further, our results reveal that religion influences support for rehabilitation as well as punitiveness. These findings suggest the need for scholars to think more broadly about the role of religion in criminology.

Grasmick, Harold G., Cochran, John K., Bursik Jr., Robert J, and Kimpel, M’Lou (2006), Religion, punitive justice, and support for the death penalty. Justice Quarterly, 10, 1993 - Issue 2: 289-314. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07418829300091831



The increased punitiveness in the criminal justice system, stimulated at least to some extent by public opinion, has coincided with the revival of Protestant evangelicalism and fundamentalism and with their followers’ active involvement in politics and policy debates. Previous research on the determinants of preferred justice policies in the public either ignored religion or relied on a simple distinction among Protestants, Catholics, and Jews. The present study argues that evangelical/fundamentalist Protestants are more inclined to attribute crime to offenders’ dispositional characteristics than to situational factors. Consequently they are expected to be more punitive than members of other groups. Survey data from a sample of adults in a southwestern city reveal greater punitiveness among evangelical/fundamentalist Protestants on four of five policy issues, including support for the death penalty both for adults and for juveniles.

Stack, Steven (2012), Authoritarianism and Support for the Death Penalty: A Multivariate Analysis. Sociological Focus Volume 36, Issue 4: 333-352. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00380237.2003.10571228



While a widely used concept in the social sciences, authoritarianism has been neglected in research on death penalty support. The few existing studies on the association tend to be limited by the lack of an integrated theory, reliance on bivariate analysis, local and often nonrepresentative samples, and use of data from the 1960s. In addition, the large majority of death penalty support studies from the last quarter century have omitted authoritarianism from their models. The present study addresses these issues and tests an updated integrated model incorporating measures from alternative symbolic orientations (e.g., fundamentalism, conservatism), instrumentalism (e.g., crime victimization, fear), and demographic controls. The analysis is based on aggregated data from the General Social Surveys. A multivariate logistic regression analysis finds that, controlling for the symbolic and instrumental covariates of authoritarianism, authoritarianism is a leading predictor of death penalty support. The results provide a more accurate understanding of the foundations of support for the death penalty. Fully specified models of death penalty support need to include authoritarianism. The link between authoritarianism, an orientation thought to be inconsistent with basic democratic values, and death penalty support may serve to delegitimate the death penalty in policy debates.

Using the search terms “criminal justice system racist” at Google Scholar yielded the following select citations:

Davis, A. (1996). Benign Neglect of Racism in the Criminal Justice System. Michigan Law Review, 94(6), 1660-1686. doi:10.2307/1289965


Kappeler, V. E., & Potter, G. W. (2017). The mythology of crime and criminal justice. Waveland Press.



The social construction of crime is often out of proportion to the threat posed. The media and advocacy groups shine a spotlight on some crimes and ignore others. Street crime is highlighted as putting everyone at risk of victimization, while the greater social harms from corporate malfeasance receive far less attention.

Social arrangements dictate what is defined as crime and the punishments for those who engage in the proscribed behavior. Interest groups promote their agendas by appealing to public fears. Justifications often have no basis in fact, but the public accepts the exaggerations and blames the targeted offenders. The net-widening effect of more laws and more punishment catches those least able to defend themselves.

This innovative alternative to traditional textbooks provides insightful observations of myths and trends in criminal justice. Fourteen chapters challenge misconceptions about specific crimes or aspects of the criminal justice system. Kappeler and Potter dissect popular images of crimes and criminals in a cogent, compelling, and engaging manner. They trace the social construction of each issue and identify the misleading statistics and fears that form the basis of myths—and the collateral damage of basing policies on mythical beliefs. The authors encourage skepticism about commonly accepted beliefs, offer readers a fresh perspective, and urge them to analyze important issues from novel vantage points.

Bailey, Z. D., Krieger, N., Agénor, M., Graves, J., Linos, N., & Bassett, M. T. (2017). Structural racism and health inequities in the USA: evidence and interventions. The Lancet, 389(10077), 1453-1463.



Despite growing interest in understanding how social factors drive poor health outcomes, many academics, policy makers, scientists, elected officials, journalists, and others responsible for defining and responding to the public discourse remain reluctant to identify racism as a root cause of racial health inequities. In this conceptual report, the third in a Series on equity and equality in health in the USA, we use a contemporary and historical perspective to discuss research and interventions that grapple with the implications of what is known as structural racism on population health and health inequities. Structural racism refers to the totality of ways in which societies foster racial discrimination through mutually reinforcing systems of housing, education, employment, earnings, benefits, credit, media, health care, and criminal justice. These patterns and practices in turn reinforce discriminatory beliefs, values, and distribution of resources. We argue that a focus on structural racism offers a concrete, feasible, and promising approach towards advancing health equity and improving population health.