Relationship Between Race, Ethnicity, and Sentencing Outcomes: A Meta-Analysis of Sentencing Research

Ojmarrh Mitchell, University of Maryland at College Park

Numerous studies have addressed the question: are racial/ethnic minorities treated more harshly in comparison to similarly situated whites? Several authors have attempted to review this voluminous and diverse body of research using traditional qualitative narrative literature review techniques. These narrative reviews are of limited utility to current debates either because these reviews are dated (i.e., largely concerning research conducted prior to the advent of structured sentencing) or because of shortcomings inherent in qualitative literature reviews. Hence, little is actually known regarding the cumulative findings from this body of research. To fill this gap, a quantitative synthesis (meta-analysis) of all available research examining the relationship between race/ethnicity and sentencing outcomes in non-capital offenses is conducted. The objectives of this study are to determine whether minorities are more likely to receive harsher court outcomes than whites, the magnitude of any such bias, whether structured sentencing (e.g., sentencing guidelines) is associated with less inequalities in sentencing decisions, and in which contexts, if any, is bias most likely to occur. Furthermore, the relationship between methodological rigor and study findings is examined.

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Updated 05/20/2006