Evaluating the Stratification of Justice: The Relationships Between Gender, Race, and Sentencing Length

Catherine Bain Butler University
Faculty Sponsor(s): Krista Cline Butler University
2.3 million Americans today are incarcerated; 1,564,000 of those people are not white. This illustrates a clear racial disparity within the United States justice system in terms of which individuals are sentenced to prison. While previous research, examining mostly state justice systems, has found that racial bias leads to longer sentences and noted differences in sentencing length between male and female defendants, a paucity of research exists that examines the impact of race and gender on sentencing lengths within the federal justice system. This study seeks to fill that gap. Data from the years 2000 through 2016 were obtained via the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s “Monitoring of Federal Criminal Cases,” and analyzed using multiple linear regression featuring control variables of education level, age, socioeconomic status, and criminal history. The data set included 1,011,988 defendants: 87% male, 71% white and 78% with a criminal history. Results found that, on average and across crimes, whites received shorter sentences than non-whites and women received shorter sentences than men. When comparing ethnicity, on average and across crimes, white men received shorter sentences than black men and white women received longer sentences than non-white women. These findings suggest that a judge may base the length of sentence not only on the facts of the case, but also on the defendant’s race or gender. These results alert federal judges to possible biases of which they must be aware and highlight the need for a policy to control for demographic factors when determining sentences.
Oral Presentation

When & Where

10:45 AM
Jordan Hall 301