Proof for Racial bias in US court sentences

Petty criminals who are black are more likely to be jailed than their white counterparts and serve longer sentences for low severity crimes, according to new research.

Dr Todd Hartman, from the University of Sheffield’s Methods Institute, and Rhys Hester, of the University of Minnesota, explored if, how and when race factors in criminal sentencing by analysing more than 17,000 decisions from South Carolina in the USA.

Their study, published in the Journal of Quantitative Criminology today (Monday 29 February 2016), highlights inequalities in incarceration rates and sentence lengths for minority offenders.

The research tested the “liberation hypothesis”, which concerns how much flexibility judges have when sentencing, depending on the relevant case facts.

The theory stipulates that when the case facts are unambiguous and the evidence clearly favours one side – for example, for the most serious crimes and repeat criminal offenders – judges will have little choice but to impose severe punishment regardless of extra-legal factors like race.

However, in more ambiguous contexts, judges are “liberated” from the constraints of extreme criminality. In these instances there is room for judges to exercise discretion, and the door is opened for extra-legal characteristics such as race to influence sentencing decisions.

-more at scienmag

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