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Disparity and Discrimination in Sentencing - The Case of Georgia - Executive Summary

NCJ Number
M A Myers; S M Talarico
Date Published
58 pages
This executive summary reports the methods and findings of a study which investigated the extent and sources of sentencing disparity in Georgia's superior courts from 1976 through June 1982. In general, it found that no one group of offenders was consistently sentenced more harshly or more leniently.
The analysis examined a sample of over 18,000 convicted felons drawn from the files of the Department of Offender Rehabilitation, the Fulton County Superior Court, and the DeKalb County District Attorney. Other information sources included official county and court data, interviews with criminal justice professionals, and newspaper accounts. Five kinds of sentencing decisions were examined: sentence type, whether probation or prison; length of probation; total sentence length for offenders receiving split sentences; proportion of the split sentence for which prison was mandated; and length of prison terms of offenders receiving only incarceration. Although legal factors more strongly and consistently affected sentencing than did social background factors, the magnitude and direction of their effects depended on the sentencing courts' characteristics and the surrounding community. The nature of differential sentencing based on race depended on selected features of the court and county. Court bureaucratization did not reduce differential sentencing, but intensified harsh treatment of both socially advantaged and disadvantaged offenders. The same was true for urbanization. Sentences were not consistently more severe in politically conservative or crime-ridden counties. There was no evidence that press coverage increased sentencing harshness for dangerous offenders. The results demonstrate the complexity of sentencing and the inadequacy of theories that focus on single determinants. The summary includes approximately 40 references.