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Racial, Ethnic, and Gender Disparities in Sentencing: Evidence from the U.S. Federal Courts

David B. Mustard
The Journal of Law & Economics
Vol. 44, No. 1 (April 2001), pp. 285-314
DOI: 10.1086/320276
Stable URL:
Page Count: 30
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Abstract This paper examines 77,236 federal offenders sentenced under the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 and concludes the following. First, after controlling for extensive criminological, demographic, and socioeconomic variables, I found that blacks, males, and offenders with low levels of education and income receive substantially longer sentences. Second, disparities are primarily generated by departures from the guidelines, rather than differential sentencing within the guidelines. Departures produce about 55 percent of the black‐white difference and 70 percent of the male‐female difference. Third, although black‐white disparities occur across offenses, the largest differences are for drug trafficking. The Hispanic‐white disparity is generated primarily by those convicted of drug trafficking and firearm possession/trafficking. Last, blacks and males are also less likely to get no prison term when that option is available; less likely to receive downward departures; and more likely to receive upward adjustments and, conditioned on having a downward departure, receive smaller reductions than whites and females.

Notes and References

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