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Disparities in Processing Felony Arrests in New York State, 1990-1992

NCJ Number
J F Nelson
Date Published
101 pages
Case processing decisions and outcomes for adults arrested for felony offenses whose cases were disposed between July 1990 and June 1992 in New York were analyzed to estimate biases in case processing decisions following arrest but preceding incarceration.
During this period, 14 percent of the minorities but only 9 percent of the whites arrested for felony offenses were sentenced to prisons; 18 percent of the minorities but only 12 percent of the whites were sentenced to jail. After controlling for differences in prior criminal histories, seriousness of arrest charges, type of arrest charges, gender, county, and youthful offender eligibility, the analyses revealed that minorities were held in jail at indictment and sentenced to incarceration more often than comparably situated whites. Approximately one in three minorities sentenced to jail would have received a different sentence if they were processed as comparably situated whites. Sentencing disparities account for approximately 300 prison and 4,000 jail sentences of minority defendants each year. However, the existence of disparities does not demonstrate that criminal justice personnel actively discriminate against blacks and Hispanics. In fact, the failure to find substantial disparities in prosecuting cases in superior court, convicting defendants of serious crimes, sentencing probation-eligible minorities to prison in New York City, and setting sentence lengths suggest that racial prejudices did not affect most processing decisions. Nevertheless, findings indicated the need to review the fairness of relying on bail to release poor defendants before arraignment in superior court and to examine the reasons for sentencing minorities to jail more often than whites in both superior and criminal court. Tables, footnotes, appended tables, and 11 references