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Sentencing Female Misdemeanants: An Examination of the Direct and Indirect Effects of Race/Ethnicity

NCJ Number
Justice Quarterly Volume: 23 Issue: 1 Dated: March 2006 Pages: 60-95
Pauline K. Brennan
Date Published
March 2006
36 pages
This study examined whether there was a link between race and the likelihood of receiving a jail sentence among 678 female misdemeanants convicted in New York City's Criminal Court between 1989 and 1991.
The study found that Black and Hispanic women were more likely to receive jail sentences than their White counterparts; however, there was no direct race/ethnicity effect on sentencing. Apparently class discrimination resulted in indirect racial discrimination. Both Black and Hispanic women were less likely to be high school graduates than White women. They were also less likely to be employed. Ultimately, both limited education attainment and unemployment indirectly increased the chances that Black and Hispanic women would serve jail terms. Prior convictions influenced the receiving of a jail sentence only for Black women. Regarding the remaining variables considered findings were generally supportive of the theoretical and empirical literature for sentencing in general. Harsher sentences were given to female misdemeanants with prior records, more serious charges, pretrial detention, and documented pretrial failure to appear at a hearing. Half of the sample consisted of Black women, and one-third involved Hispanic women. Their ages ranged from 16 to 60, with the average age being 29. The dependent variable was time served in jail. Independent variables were race/ethnicity, age at arrest, community ties, marital status, children, employed, education, prior convictions, charge severity, type of top charge, pretrial release, processing time over 30 days, and a warrant ordered. A series of logistic-regression equations was used to determine possible indirect routes from defendant race/ethnicity to the ultimate case outcome. 4 tables, 2 figures, and 82 references


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