Measuring Sentencing Disparity: A Significance Test

Jennifer H. Childress, University of Cincinnati
Lawrence F. Travis III, University of Cincinnati

ABSTRACT
Beginning in the 1970s, the federal and state governments have engaged in wide-ranging sentencing reform efforts. One important goal of these reforms has been the reduction of sentencing disparity. Over the past two decades a body of research into the effects of sentencing reforms has developed. This research has suffered from the lack of a simple test of statistical significance of changes in the variance of criminal sentences. While there is some evidence that the implementation of sentencing reforms have resulted in substantial reductions in disparity (Goffredson, 1979; BJS, 1996), no empirical tests have been reported that determine if sentencing reforms have produced statistically significant reductions in disparity. This paper describes such a test using data on sentences imposed on offenders in North Carolina before and after that state's 1994 implementation of structured sentencing guidelines.

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Updated 05/20/2006