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Federal Sentencing Disparity: 2005-2012

NCJ Number
Date Published
October 2015
133 pages
This study examines Federal sentencing disparity for 2005-2012 among White and Black offenders, as well as judicial variation in sentencing since Booker vs. United States, regardless of race.
Over the 8-year period examined, Black men received approximately 5-10 percent longer prison sentences than White men for similar crimes, after accounting for the facts surrounding the case. Although there was a trend toward more lenient sentences overall, White males had larger declines in average prison sentences than Black males, such that sentencing disparity between White and Black males widened during this period; however, the disparity in sentencing between Black and White males decreased as crimes became more serious. Females of both races received less severe sentences than Black males during the study period; Black females received sentences similar to White females. In Booker vs. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Federal sentencing guidelines are advisory rather than mandatory; however, they are still important as a standard that a judge must consult prior to imposing a sentence. Post-Booker, judges disagreed about the relative sentences for White and Black males, and some judges gave Black males especially longer sentences; however, judges who imposed above-average prison terms on Black offenders also tended to impose above-average prison terms on White offenders. Also, judges who sentenced White offenders to below-average prison terms also tended to give below-average prison terms to Black offenders. Sentences were disparate in that similarly situated offenders who had committed similar crimes generally received sentences that differed, with the nature of the difference depending on the judge who imposed the sentence. The data used are from the Bureau of Justice Statistics' Federal Justice Statistics Program, which annually collects Federal criminal justice processing data from various Federal agencies. Extensive tables and figures, 26 references, and appended supplementary detailed data

Date Published: October 1, 2015