The Wolfgang Legacy on the Intersection of Race and the Death Penalty

  • Ruth-Ellen M. Grimes


A persistent concern of Marvin Wolfgang’s professional criminological journey was the impact of racial disparities in the criminal justice process. In his first major work Wolfgang (1958) analyzed data from police records on 588 criminal homicide cases in Philadelphia between 1948–1952. He found 73% of these 588 victims were black and 75% of the 621 offenders were black. The question then became one of why such a disproportionate number of blacks were represented in these homicide statistics, given their overall 18% representation in the general population. Detailed analysis revealed that blacks were more likely than whites to be charged with first degree homicide (blacks 20%, whites 15%) and were more likely to be convicted in all homicide cases (blacks 81%, whites 62%). This study neither focussed on nor reported on racial differentials in capital sentencing.


Death Penalty Racial Discrimination Racial Disparity Death Sentence Criminal Justice Process 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ruth-Ellen M. Grimes
    • 1
  1. 1.Behavioral Sciences DepartmentCalifornia State Polytechnic UniversityPomonaUSA

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