Racial Disparity in Sentencing

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Racial Disparity in Sentencing
Lori Raynor
University of Phoenix
Cultural Diversity in Criminal Justice
Ron McGee
September 06, 2010
In this paper I will illustrate racial disparity in sentencing in the criminal justice system. The causes of racial disparity and the reasons it is on the rise, the research statistics, and the proposed solutions are discussed.

Racial Disparity in Sentencing
The intersection of racial dynamics with the criminal justice system is one of longstanding duration. In earlier times, courtrooms in many jurisdictions were comprised of all white decision-makers. Today, there is more diversity of leadership in the court system, but race still plays a critical role in many criminal justice outcomes. This ranges from disparate traffic stops because of racial profiling to imposition of the death penalty based on the race of the victim or the offender. A particularly important aspect of the role of race in the criminal justice system relates to sentencing because the prospect of a racially discriminatory process violates the ideals of equal treatment under law under which the system is premised (The Sentencing Project [], 2004, p. 1). Existence of racial disparity confirmed by research:

Young, black, and Latino males (especially if they are unemployed) are subject to particularly harsh sentencing compared to other offender populations. Black and Latino defendants are disadvantaged compared to Whites with regard to legal-process related factors such as the “trial penalty,” sentence reductions for substantial assistance, criminal history, pretrial detention, and type of attorney. Black defendants convicted of harming White victims suffer harsher penalties than blacks who commit crimes against other Blacks or White defendants who harm Whites. Black and Latino defendants tend to be sentenced more severely than comparably situated White defendants for less serious crimes, especially drug, and property crimes. Studies that examine death-penalty cases have generally found that, in the vast majority of cases, if the murder victim is White, the defendant is more likely to receive a death sentence. In a few jurisdictions, notably the federal system, minority defendants (especially Blacks) are more likely to receive a death sentence (Spohn, 2000, p. 453).

For example, a study of the Maryland capital punishment system published in 2003 found that although the race of the victim did not affect the decision of the jury to sentence the defendant to death, among all death-eligible homicides, killers of White victims are still three times more likely to be sentenced to death than comparably situated killers of non-White victims (Paternoster & Brame, 2003). The disparity between White-victim and non-White victim in this instance arose from the decisions of the state’s attorney to seek, and follow through with, death penalty prosecutions more often in White- victim cases than non-White-victim cases. Causes of racial disparity in sentencing:

Overreliance in incarceration:
The political furor over crime during the past two decades has driven legislatures to pass increasingly punitive laws resulting in enormous growth in prison and jail populations. At the end of 2006, one in 31 individuals was under some sort of criminal justice supervision (e.g., prison, jail, parole, or probation), and the majority of them were people of color. The enormous increase in the use of jails and prisons has taken place without persuasive evidence indication that incarcerative strategies are the only, or even the most effective, approach to controlling crime. Very little by way of job training, rehabilitation, or education occurs in prison, so when inmates are released they face myriad obstacles as they attempt to reenter society. Overt racial bias:

Criminal justice practitioners, like others, are likely to identify with those who look and act like themselves. Thus, judges and prosecutors may be more...
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