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Impact of Ohio's Senate Bill 2 on Sentencing Disparities

NCJ Number
John Wooldredge; Fritz Rauschenberg; Timothy Griffin; Travis Pratt
Date Published
April 2002
143 pages
This study examined whether the impact of extra-legal influences (such as race) on the case outcomes of indicted felons has been significantly reduced under Ohio's new sentencing scheme, which consists of guidelines that are less rigid than typical determinate sentencing schemes.
The study also addressed whether particular legal and extra-legal influences on case outcomes operated differently on various race/ethnic groups, as well as whether such differences were significantly reduced after the implementation of the new sentencing scheme. Unlike other determinate sentencing schemes around the country, Ohio does not use a matrix-style grid to guide judges in felony sentences. Rather, Ohio uses presumptions, factors, required findings, and other guidance to guide judges within fairly broad ranges. Although there are presumptive disposition decisions based on the offense and prior record, as well as presumptive sentence lengths for particular levels of offense, the guidelines allow judges to consider multiple goals of sentencing and depart from guideline requirement if good reasons can be documented. The study compared the experiences of two groups of offenders, i.e., those indicted on felony charges before the implementation of Senate Bill 2 (sentencing reform legislation) and those indicted on felony charges after the implementation of SB2 (July 1, 1996). The sample was composed of 5,648 persons indicted in 24 Ohio counties during the 2 time periods. All data for the study were obtained from prosecutors' and felony probation offices. The effects of legal and extra-legal characteristics were examined for the following case dispositions: whether a case was successfully diverted from the system after indictment, whether an indicted case was dismissed for any other reason (subsequently dropped charges, trial acquittals), whether a fully prosecuted defendant was convicted, the magnitude of charge reductions between indictment and conviction for a convicted defendant, whether a convicted defendant was sent to prison, whether a convicted defendant was sent to jail, and the number of months for which an imprisoned defendant was sentenced. Considering the broader issue of racial and ethnic disparities in case processing (with or without SB2), the study found empirical evidence that interaction effects that involved a defendant's race/ethnicity might be more important than main effects when predicting case outcomes. Efforts to create more equity in sentencing among specific groups throughout the court system may not be effective when these groups differ on other characteristics that also influence case processing. The problem is compounded when levels of discrimination in the broader society vary by social context. A State-level sentencing reform will thus be limited in its impact when it cannot address individual-level (e.g., official criminal records, education, employment) and social contextual (particular societal biases that may vary by jurisdiction) interaction effects on case processing. 67 references, 24 tables, and appended list of variables