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Racial Discrimination in Criminal Sentencing - A Critical Evaluation of the Evidence With Additional Evidence on the Death Penalty

NCJ Number
American Sociological Review Volume: 46 Issue: 6 Dated: (December 1981) Pages: 783-805
G Kleck
Date Published
Reevaluation of published research on racial bias in criminal sentencing and of data on execution rates by race from 1930 to 1967 and on death-sentencing rates from 1960 to 1978 indicates that, except in the South, black homicide offenders have been less likely than whites to receive a death sentence or be executed.
For the 11% of executions imposed for rape, discrimination against black defendants who had raped white victims was substantial, but only in the South. Evidence for noncapital sentencing also largely contradicts a hypothesis of overt discrimination against black defendants. Although black offender-white victim crimes are generally punished more severely than crimes involving other racial combinations, this appears to be due to legally relevant factors related to such offenses. Crimes with black victims, however, are less likely than those with white victims to result in imposition of the death penalty. The devalued status of black crime victims is one of several hypothetical explanations of the more lenient sentencing of black defendants. (Author abstract)