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Prediction of Racial/Ethnic Sentencing Disparities

NCJ Number
Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency Volume: 25 Issue: 1 Dated: (February 1988) Pages: 53-82
J D Unnever; L A Hembroff
Date Published
30 pages
For the most part, prior research on discrimination in sentencing has not been theoretically informed by a context-based theory of decisionmaking.
In this article we introduce one of the theories of status characteristics and expectation states, Hembroff's (1982) version, to predict when racial/ethnic sentencing disparities are most likely to occur. The theory predicts that when the case-related attributes (i.e., a performance characteristic set) are consistent -- all point to incarceration or all point to probation -- sentencing disparities are not likely to occur based on defendants' race/ethnically (i.e., diffuse status characteristics). The theory also predicts that as case-related attributes become increasingly inconsistent -- some point to incarceration while others point to probation -- there is an increasing likelihood that racial/ethnic sentencing disparities will occur. We evaluate the utility of this theoretical model by analyzing data on the sentences of 313 male drug offenders in Miami, Florida. The results support Hembroff's version of status characteristics theory. (Author abstract)