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White-Collar vs Street Crime Sentencing Disparity - How Judges See the Problem

NCJ Number
Court Review Volume: 21 Issue: 3 Dated: (Summer 1984) Pages: 12-17
H Pollack; A B Smith
Date Published
6 pages
Fourteen judges in New York City responded to questions on the disparity in sentencing of white-collar offenders compared to other offenders.
The judges said that when they sentence white-collar criminals to prison, it is usually to set an example for their peers. The groups most likely to be deterred are middle- and upper-class professionals -- doctors, lawyers, accountants, civil servants, and bankers. Public officials are likely to be dealt with more harshly than private individuals who commit similar offenses. When prison sentences are imposed, they are likely to be short -- from 6 months to 3 years; most sentences cluster around 1 year. The judges believe that sentences shorter than those given to street criminals are not less punitive; for example, a 1-year sentence to an upper- or middle-class citizen is thought to be more punitive than a 3- or 4-year sentence to a street criminal. Sentencing disparity is concluded to occur among judges for at least four reasons: (1) a lack of consistent theory of crime causation and punishment; (2) the expectations of the community in which the court is located; (3) the characteristics of the sentencing judge that influence his/her behavior; and (4) the pressures of day-to-day operations in the criminal courts, particularly those in urban courts. The need for additional study of actual sentencing practices is emphasized.