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Social Contexts of Criminal Sentencing

NCJ Number
M A Myers; S M Talarico
Date Published
225 pages
The effect of county, court, and temporal context and offender characteristics on sentencing outcomes was examined in data for a stratified random sample of 26,223 felons convicted between 1976 and 1985 in Georgia.
Interactional and additive analyses indicate numerous effects of social context on sentencing outcome (probation, split sentence, imprisonment). County economic conditions, crime rates, and urbanization exerted effects on punitiveness toward property versus violent offenders. Court variables (such as specialization and bureaucratization) and judge characteristics (such as age, sex, religion, and professional background) were impressive conditioners of race and offense effects on all three sentencing outcomes. Temporal variations in sentencing patterns also were found. Overall, three major findings emerge: (1) there was little evidence of systemwide discrimination against blacks; (2) legally relevant variables, especially offense seriousness, were a major factor in sentencing decisions, particularly prison length determinations; and (3) aspects county, court, and time conditioned the direction and intensity of the influence exerted by race and offense. An appendix supplies additional tabular data. Tables, index, and approximately 200 references.


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