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Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Pacific Access Restricted

Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)


Intercultural Relations

First Advisor

Janet Bennett

First Committee Member

Susan Sample

Second Committee Member

Kent Warren

Third Committee Member

Laura Bathurst


This thesis explored the communication and conflict style contrasts between criminal justice professionals and African American defendants that can interfere with the equitable administration of justice in the criminal justice system in Dane County, Wisconsin. The focus of this research was on the potential conflict style contrasts between criminal justice professionals and African Americans because the racial disparity in the incarceration rate was greatest for African Americans. This research project began from the premise that the racial incarceration rate disparity was caused in part by differences in cultural conflict and communication styles, and it explored the intersection of power differentials and cultural conflict and communication style differentials.

The study employed the Intercultural Conflict Style Inventory, courtroom observations, and two focus groups. One focus group was composed of professionals in the criminal justice system from Dane County, Wisconsin, and the other of African Americans who have been impacted negatively by this system. All findings were used to develop specific training recommendations to help criminal justice professionals to understand conflict and communication style preferences with the intention of decreasing the disparate treatment of members of the African American community.

The combined research strategies suggested that the primary culture of the criminal justice system was consistent with European American cultural preferences for low-context, direct, and emotionally restrained communication and conflict styles, which contrasts with the general preference of the African American culture for a more emotionally expressive engagement style. While this research did not specifically indicate that intercultural miscommunication directly impacts the equitable distribution of justice in Dane County, it did suggest that cultural contrasts may be one variable contributing to the inequitable distribution of justice.



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