Modeling the Main and Interactive Effects of Gender and Race/Ethnicity on the Case Processing of Criminal Defendants in Large Urban Courts

Stephen Demuth, Bowling Green State University
Darrell Steffensmeier, The Pennsylvania State University

Recent assessments of the research on gender disparities in the case processing of criminal defendants highlight a major shortcoming: scope. Limitations in scope mainly involve (i) the scarcity of research on decision making at earlier stages of case processing, including the impact of prior decisions on subsequent decision making (most notably, the sentencing decision) and (ii) the scarcity of research examining possible interactive effects between gender and race, and even more so, interactive effects between gender and ethnicity -- i.e., the inclusion of Hispanic defendants. In the present study, we use data from the State Court Processing Statistics (SCPS) program of the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) to address this shortcoming and develop a fuller, and more fully verified, account of the relationship between gender and case-process decision making. The research improves upon the existing empirical literature in several ways. In contrast, to many previous efforts, this one: (i) examines gender disparities in judicial decision making as a process across four stages: pretrial release, adjudication, incarceration, and sentence length; (ii) tests main and interactive effects of gender on decision making across different stages, contexts, and offense categories; (iii) disaggregates the data to include comparisons involving White, Black, and Hispanic defendants; and (iv) profits from improved statistical approaches for modeling selection bias and understanding court decision making as a process. In addition, the analysis benefits from a large, representative sample covering different social settings and handling a substantial proportion of all felony cases in the United States.

(Return to Program Resources)

Updated 05/20/2006