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July 20, 2016

"How Judges Think about Racial Disparities: Situational Decision-Making in the Criminal Justice System"

The title of this post is the title of this intriguing new article authored by Matthew Clair and Alix Winter from the jounral Criminology and available at this link. Here is the abstract:

Researchers have theorized how judges’ decision-making may result in the disproportionate presence of Blacks and Latinos in the criminal justice system.  Yet, we have little evidence about how judges make sense of these disparities and what, if anything, they do to address them.  By drawing on 59 interviews with state judges in a Northeastern state, we describe, and trace the implications of, judges’ understandings of racial disparities at arraignment, plea hearings, jury selection, and sentencing.

Most judges in our sample attribute disparities, in part, to differential treatment by themselves and/or other criminal justice officials, whereas some judges attribute disparities only to the disparate impact of poverty and differences in offending rates.  To address disparities, judges report employing two categories of strategies: noninterventionist and interventionist.  Noninterventionist strategies concern only a judge’s own differential treatment, whereas interventionist strategies concern other actors’ possible differential treatment, as well as the disparate impact of poverty and facially neutral laws.

We reveal how the use of noninterventionist strategies by most judges unintentionally reproduces disparities. Through our examination of judges’ understandings of racial disparities throughout the court process, we enhance understandings of American racial inequality and theorize a situational approach to decision-making in organizational contexts.

July 20, 2016 at 03:27 PM | Permalink

Comments

geography plays a role--same set of facts, I'd rather be prosecuted in an urban county rather than a suburban one.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 20, 2016 4:13:24 PM

Disparity?

Race, ethnicity and crime statistics.

For the White–Black comparisons, the Black level is 12.7 times greater than the White level for homicide, 15.6 times greater for robbery, 6.7 times greater for rape, and 4.5 times greater for aggravated assault.

For the Hispanic- White comparison, the Hispanic level is 4.0 times greater than the White level for homicide, 3.8 times greater for robbery, 2.8 times greater for rape, and 2.3 times greater for aggravated assault.

For the Hispanic–Black comparison, the Black level is 3.1 times greater than the Hispanic level for homicide, 4.1 times greater for robbery, 2.4 times greater for rape, and 1.9 times greater for aggravated assault.

"Recent studies suggest a decline in the relative Black effect on violent crime in recent decades and interpret this decline as resulting from greater upward mobility among African Americans during the past several decades."

"However, other assessments of racial stratification in American society suggest at least as much durability as change in Black social mobility since the 1980s."

When correcting for the Hispanic effect:

"Results suggest that little overall change has occurred in the Black share of violent offending in both UCR and NCVS estimates during the last 30 years."

From

REASSESSING TRENDS IN BLACK VIOLENT CRIME, 1980.2008: SORTING OUT THE "HISPANIC EFFECT" IN UNIFORM CRIME REPORTS ARRESTS, NATIONAL CRIME VICTIMIZATION SURVEY OFFENDER ESTIMATES, AND U.S. PRISONER COUNTS, See pages 208-209, FN 5, DARRELL STEFFENSMEIER, BEN FELDMEYER, CASEY T. HARRIS, JEFFERY T. ULMER, Criminology, Volume 49, Issue 1, Article first published online: 24 FEB 2011 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1745-9125.2010.00222.x/pdf

Posted by: Dudley Sharp | Jul 21, 2016 7:09:56 AM

Interesting piece of data. In my state, the sentencing advisory commission periodically publishes a disparity report. In the last two years, the report had this interesting finding: 1) the raw data over the past decade suggested a disparity, blacks on average were serving longer sentences than whites and more likely to get prison sentence instead of probation; 2) when you controlled for the offenses of conviction (i.e. violent vs. non-violent, higher classification -- i.e. sentencing range) vs. lower classification) and for criminal history, the disparity shrunk substantially; and 3) when you also controlled for the county of conviction, race was no longer statistically significant. (In other words, the counties that were more likely to send low level offenders for short sentences were rural counties with almost no minority populations; the counties that mostly sent high level offenders with significant sentences were urban counties -- which while having one-third of the total population of the state have three-quarters of the minority population.)

Posted by: tmm | Jul 21, 2016 5:11:59 PM

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