U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Modeling the Politics of Punishment: A Contextual Analysis of Racial Disparity in Drug Sentencing

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice Review Volume: 35 Issue: 4 Dated: December 2010 Pages: 472-491
Ronald Helms; S. E. Costanza
Date Published
December 2010
20 pages
This study investigated the links between local politics, racial demographics, and drug sentencing patterns.
This study uses Tobit to assess contextual punishment determinants for a large sample of felony drug cases that reached final disposition in 1990. After statistically holding constant ascribed and legal variables, the authors find that punishments for African-American defendants in drug-related cases varied by social and political context. African-American defendants adjudicated in jurisdictions characterized by a large Black population received reduced punishments; but in jurisdictions that were characterized by strong law-and-order political support, Black defendants received longer sentences. After introducing these interactions, Blacks faced on average reduced penalties for drug crimes. Blacks were the recipients of adjusted sentencing but not in the uniformly harsh direction proposed by much of the sentencing research. In sum, the results of this research add to the growing literature documenting the political foundations of punishment patterns in the U.S. criminal courts. Tables and references (Published Abstract)