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NCJ Number: 188140 Find in a Library
Title: Ethhnicity and Judges' Sentencing Decisions: Hispanic-Black-White Comparisons
Journal: Criminology  Volume:39  Issue:1  Dated:February 2001  Pages:145-178
Author(s): Darrell Steffensmeier; Stephen Demuth
Editor(s): Robert J. Bursik Jr.
Date Published: February 2001
Page Count: 34
Type: Research (Applied/Empirical)
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: Using Pennsylvania sentencing practices, this study examined the racial influences on legal and criminal justice outcomes by comparing sentence outcomes of white, black, and Hispanic defendants.
Abstract: This study examined the effects of ethnicity (Hispanic, black, and white defendants) on sentencing practices in the large northeastern State of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania was targeted as an ethnically diversified urban population that included sizable and growing numbers of Hispanic residents. In addition, Pennsylvania had implemented a sentence guidelines system that aimed to reduce unwarranted disparity. It offered a data set for analyzing sentencing decisions. Prior sentencing research had focused primarily on disparities in sentencing outcomes between black and white defendants. This study expected that specific social and historical context involving Hispanic Americans exacerbated perceptions of their cultural dissimilarity and the "threat" they posed in ways that contributed to their harsher treatment in the criminal courts, harsher not only in comparison to white defendants, but also harsher than black defendants. It was further expected that the current drug war would exacerbate the significance of ethnicity as a predictor of sentence outcomes in drug cases, such as black and, especially Hispanic defendants, would be sentenced more harshly if convicted of drug offenses. Individual level data compiled by the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing from 1991 to 1994 was used to address these hypotheses. Overall, the study found there was a more lenient treatment of white defendants in sentencing. The major finding was that Hispanic defendants were the defendant subgroup most at risk to receive the harshest penalty. This result held across all comparisons, for both the in/out and term-length decisions and for both drug and non-drug cases. Study findings broadened the view of the continuing significance of race/ethnicity in American society, previously defined as a problem faced only by blacks, and to consider the structural and organizational barriers facing Hispanics and other ethnic groups. References
Main Term(s): Sentencing disparity
Index Term(s): Black/African Americans; Caucasian/White Americans; Hispanic Americans; Judicial decisions; Race-punishment relationship; Racial discrimination; Sentencing trends
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