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AllGov – News – Black Americans Given Longer Sentences than White Americans for Same Crimes (Participation)

March 2, 2012

Reaction?  Thoughts?  Relationship to claims about Colorblindness

Black Americans Given Longer Sentences than White Americans for Same Crimes

Saturday, February 04, 2012

A new academic study of 58,000 federal criminal cases has found significant disparities in sentencing for blacks and whites arrested for the same crimes. The research led to the conclusion that African-Americans’ jail time was almost 60% longer than white sentences.

According to M. Marit Rehavi of the University of British Columbia and Sonja B. Starr, who teaches criminal law at the University of Michigan Law School, the racial disparities can be explained “in a single prosecutorial decision: whether to file a charge carrying a mandatory minimum sentence….Black men were on average more than twice as likely to face a mandatory minimum charge as white men were, holding arrest offense as well as age and location constant.” Prosecutors are about twice as likely to impose mandatory minimums on black defendants as on white defendants.

In federal cases, black defendants faced average sentences of 60 months, while the average for white defendants was only 38 months.

The report concludes that sentence disparities “can be almost completely explained by three factors: the original arrest offense, the defendant’s criminal history, and the prosecutor’s initial choice of charges.”

-David Wallechinsky, Noel Brinkerhoff

via AllGov – News – Black Americans Given Longer Sentences than White Americans for Same Crimes.

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From → Participation

5 Comments
  1. I believe that this article’s argument is invalid because no crime is truly the same as another. It is like comparing people’s personal problems what may seem like a big deal to me may be a minor set back to others. Comparing two crimes is almost impossible whether it be a misdemeanor or felony you cannot compare crimes. When I look at a crime like stealing something from a store and there were two different incidents but they were SIMILAR does not mean they were the same. They could have stole the same thing but what about the way they did it… Did they break things upon escaping? Did they threaten a life? The details within a crime that aren’t always said are what really matters.. not WHO did it but how they did it.

  2. This is true, no two crimes are the same and there are multitude of mitigating circumstances that impact the process at each step. Race (implicit bias, stereotypes; institutional difference) is also part of that process. The study, which is peer reviewed (meaning other experts in the field reviewed and concluded that it was based on clear analysis and sound data), points to a number of different issues. Just one way to think about it is as follows: you note the difference between each criminal case yet they found that the aggregate of different cases involving blacks resulted in a much higher sentence than the different aggregate of cases involving whites. They are not comparing individual cases but the aggregate of federal cases (this isn’t state courts) so the law is same across various jurisdictions. As the article notes, ‘the report concludes that sentence disparities can be almost completely explained by three factors: the original arrest offense, the defendant’s criminal history, and the prosecutor’s initial choice of charges.’ Here we can see how a various issues (from racial profiling, to inequality in how drug crimes are treated, etc) can lead to differentials in “criminal history”, which in turn impacts the sentencing process. Another issue here can be how overcharging occurs, which contributes to a system where plea bargains are the norm. There are a lot of issues here and the study (that this short article) surely explores all of them.

  3. Kyla Chappell permalink

    I definitely see “Kenzarooni’s” side of the argument in saying this article is invalid. I can see her points, and would have to agree with them. How can you compare crimes side by side and give the same punishments when many different things could have occurred throughout the crime. But I can also see that Blacks could be given an exaggerated length of imprisonment, whereas a White would be given a shorter one. Because as much as we all would like to think that discrimination is dead in our society, it is very much alive, and blacks are very often still termed with “bad”.

  4. As I said above, the study doesn’t compare individual crimes (although the fact that people are charged under the same statue for different crimes illustrates that it is done) but the aggregate of crimes.

  5. Megan Grichel permalink

    I can see how this argument can seem invalid, but in a general sense they are saying that blacks recieved longer sentences for similar crimes. Even if none of the situations or crimes are 100% the same there should not be such a big difference between the sentences for white or blacks. I think this statistic further displays how there is still racial profiling in the court system and law enforcement.

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