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Sentencing bias: Why more research is needed

There may be hidden biases that influence the severity of sentencing


By Dr. Jade Pumphrey, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Military University

After someone is convicted of a crime, his or her sentence can be influenced by many factors including age, gender, and criminal history. However, there may be hidden biases that influence the severity of sentencing.

Research on sentencing bias is inconclusive and often contradictory. Some research (Bushway & Piehl, 2001) did not find connections between racial disparities in sentencing. However, other research (Walker, Spohn, & DeLone, 2007) has found that racial discrimination underlies the greatest disparity in the sentencing process.

There is disagreement among researchers about the results of various analyses because there is disagreement about how best to measure racial bias in sentencing itself. Aggravating and mitigating circumstances must be taken into consideration, as well as multiple potential reasons for the disproportionate overrepresentation of African Americans in the incarcerated population (Walker et al., 2007). In addition, African-Americans and Hispanics are sentenced to longer terms than Caucasians (Bushway & Piehl, 2001).

Full story: Sentencing Bias: Why More Research Is Needed

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