Isolating System Effects That Explain Offender-Characteristic Case Processing Disparities

Sharon E. Lansing, University at Albany

The degree to which offender characteristics affect case processing outcomes has always been an area of controversy. It is an inherently controversial issue because offender characteristics such as gender, race, and ethnicity should not have any effect on case-processing outcomes. It has remained a controversial issue because of the inconsistency in findings over the past several decades about the importance of these effects on case outcomes. While statistical methods for measuring the impact of these effects have grown more sophisticated over time, findings continue to be mixed, particularly with respect to the effect of race and ethnicity. It is argued that understanding when and how changes in decision-making criteria occur over time may make it possible to determine the extent to which these type of case processing disparities are due to systemic factors rather than the personal or unconscious biases of decision makers. A method developed by the author to diagnose why conviction rates change over time and how the criteria used to determine the probability of conviction also change along with these rates will be used to conduct an analysis that will attempt to isolate sources of systemic disparity in decision making. If successful, it may be possible to develop decision-making procedures that could reduce or eliminate the identified sources of systemic disparities. Study sites will include selected New York City counties. Case-level data obtained from the New York State Computerized Criminal History (CCH) System will be used in the conduct of this analysis.

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Updated 05/20/2006