« Does Gall preclude calling any sentencing factor "inappropriate"? | Main | Do victims care more about the sentencing process or sentencing results? »

August 13, 2008

New data on racial disparity in Nevada sentencing

I bet regular readers will not be surprised to read reports here on here on the results of a new study about sentencing in Nevada.  Here are some details from the Las Vegas Sun:

Blacks get more prison time than whites, and women receive lighter sentences than men, according to a university study of the state’s court system released Tuesday. 

The Grant Sawyer Center for Justice Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno, which examined 10,000 felony convictions in Nevada in 2007, found blacks received “significantly higher” minimum and maximum sentences than white defendants. The study also found that blacks got significantly higher minimum and maximum sentences for drug trafficking than white or Asian defendants, as well as significantly higher minimum and maximum sentences for drunken driving.

Blacks also received higher minimum sentences than whites for grand larceny and conspiracy and higher maximum sentences than whites for grand larceny, conspiracy and burglary....

Matthew C. Leone, who headed the center’s study, said it was a preliminary one that must “be viewed with caution” because the figures don’t take into account the criminal history of the defendants. “I’m not going to bet the farm on it,” he told members of the state’s Advisory Commission on the Administration of Justice during a briefing. 

James Austin, a consultant to the commission, said comparisons between sentencing patterns for blacks and whites needed further study. Hispanics, he said, were not singled out and were included with the whites in the sentencing study.

The study found other disparities, including that 18 percent of women convicted of a felony ended up in prison, compared with 37 percent of men.  Men, the study found, received significantly higher minimum and maximum sentences overall.

A set of slide detailing some of the research findings are available at this link.

August 13, 2008 at 07:52 PM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference New data on racial disparity in Nevada sentencing:


As with many media outlets that trumpet seemingly important findings, this "study" is not worth the paper on which it is written if it does not control for the most important of variables--an offender's prior criminal history.

Posted by: mjs | Aug 14, 2008 2:58:23 PM


That only means that blacks are more likely to have a prior criminal history, doesn't it? And what is the justice in that?

Posted by: DK | Aug 14, 2008 8:48:17 PM


Your comment is a reflection of your bias not mine. My comment was meant to point out the non-rigorous procedures used in the study.

Posted by: mjs | Aug 15, 2008 9:49:49 AM

A judge may take prior convictions into account in deciding the sentence but they are not supposed to take prior arrests into account. The question in this case is what does "prior criminal history" mean? If it is prior convictions it should be possible to control on criminal history but it would be difficult to control on criminal history if prior arrests are included.

In Iowa if you control on a particular offense subtype the probability of incarceration depends on the county and race/ethnicity. For a substantial number of counties the probability a minority person will be incarcerated is zero. For other counties of similar sizes it can be 5% to 20% because the number of minority residents is so small only a few nonresidents can inflate the incarceration rate. I suspect that Nevada has a similar problem.

Posted by: John Neff | Aug 15, 2008 10:02:25 AM

You might be onto something John.

Nevada's population make up is as follows: White 81.7%, Black 7.9%, Native American 1.4%, Asian 6%, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Island, .5%, two or more races 2.6%, Hispanic or Latino of any race, 24.4%, White Non Hispanic, 58.9%. Compared to the whole of the U.S., there are fewer Blacks and non-Hispanic Whites and more Asians, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, and Hispanics.

Clark County (Las Vegas), which has 1.7 Million of Nevada's 2.4 million residents (71% of the Nevada population) is 10.4% Black - Las Vegas with 552,000 residents is 10.2% Black. Thus, that would suggest that most counties outside of Clark County have very few Black residents. My calculations are that approximately 91% of Black residents of Nevada live in Clark County which is the most urbanized jurisdiction.

Since urban areas tend to have higher crime rates than rural areas, the urban-rural divide could provide an explanation.

Posted by: Zack | Aug 15, 2008 11:07:37 AM


My bias? Acknowledging the existence of systemic racism is a bias now? How far we've come.

My comment was only to point out your comment's lack of real-world relevance. If you're right about the methodology, who cares when the result (racism) is the same but for different reasons? And I think your characterization of the findings of the study (systemic racism) as "seemingly important" gives away all we need to know about your bias.

Posted by: DK | Aug 15, 2008 7:49:43 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB