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Unintended Effects of Penal Reform: African American Presence, Incarceration, and the Abolition of Discretionary Parole in the United States

NCJ Number
Crime & Delinquency Volume: 61 Issue: 5 Dated: June 2015 Pages: 719-741
Date Published
June 2015
23 pages

This study used a pooled-time series design to examine the interplay between State incarceration rates, determinate sentencing, and the size of the African-American population between 1978 and 2004.


Consistent with prior research, findings show that larger Black populations are associated with higher incarceration rates, but that this association has weakened over time. Results also indicate that determinate sentencing is associated with lower imprisonment rates. The interaction between a higher proportion of African-American residents and determinate sentencing, however, is associated with higher incarceration rates, suggesting that in States with greater minority presence the abolition of discretionary parole amplifies the impact of punitive responses linked to racial threat. The authors argue that this unintended effect reflects the fact that formal constraints on release decisionmaking reduce the ability of justice systems to administer greater punishments to specific subpopulations. (Publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: June 1, 2015