Community Context and Sentencing Outcomes

Noelle Fearn, University of Missouri - St. Louis

Prior research on sentencing has focused on the influence of offender, victim, and case characteristics. These studies generally have failed to consider the effect of the community context on sentencing outcomes. Using data on a sample of persons arrested for murder, in conjunction with data on the socio-demographic characteristics of the counties in which their cases were adjudicated, I explore whether specific county characteristics affect the severity of sentences imposed. In addition, this study examines whether these county characteristics moderate the effects of victim, defendant, and case characteristics on sentence severity. Drawing on recent research on punitiveness, I hypothesize that sanctions are more severe for murder defendants processed in communities with a relatively older age structure, a higher proportion of whites, an imbalanced sex ratio, and those located in the south.

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Updated 05/20/2006