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Distinguishing Race Effects on Pre-Trial Release and Sentencing Decisions

NCJ Number
Justice Quarterly Volume: 29 Issue: 1 Dated: February 2012 Pages: 41-75
John Wooldredge
Date Published
February 2012
35 pages
This article discusses disparities in criminal case outcomes based on a defendant's race, sex, and age.
Racial disparities in court dispositions and sentences might reflect systemic biases toward minorities, but they might also stem from race group differences in legal or other extra-legal factors linked to a defendant's risk for future criminality. Analyses of over 5,000 felony defendants from an urban Ohio jurisdiction revealed that significant main effects of a defendant's race on release on one's own recognizance (ROR), bond amounts, and prison sentences were rendered nonsignificant when controlling for legal factors, such as offense severity. Analyses of interaction effects, on the other hand, revealed that African-American males age 18-29 experienced lower odds of ROR, higher bond amounts, and higher odds of incarceration in prison relative to other demographic subgroups, even with the inclusion of rigorous controls for legally relevant criteria. The relevance of these findings for understanding disparate treatment at different stages of case processing is discussed. (Published Abstract)