The Main and Conditioning Effects of Community Characteristics on Sentencing: A Multilevel Analysis

Noelle Fearn, Washington State University

The present research uses data on a nationally representative sample of felony defendants adjudicated in large urban counties, along with information on the characteristics of the counties in which these criminal cases were processed, to examine the main and conditioning influences of community attributes on sentencing outcomes. Drawing on prior theoretical and empirical research, multilevel models are estimated to determine whether and the extent to which various contextual factors (e.g., racial composition, age structure, unemployment, sex ratio, crime rates, location, and political or religious affiliation) affect the nature or length of criminal sentences, net of other factors associated with sentencing outcomes. Additionally, this research explores whether the influences of defendant race, age, and sex vary across counties and, if so, whether county characteristics condition these effects. The implications of these findings for research, theory, and policymaking are discussed.

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Updated 05/20/2006