Race and Inequality

A Meta-Analysis of Race and Sentencing Research

Ojmarrh Mitchell
Associate Professor of Criminology, University of South Florida

Key Findings

  • For similar offenses, African Americans are generally sentenced more harshly than whites.
  • Racial neutrality of sentencing decisions needs to be re-evaluated to ensure even treatment across race and level of offense.

Description

In the article, “A Meta-Analysis of Race and Sentencing Research: Explaining the Inconsistencies,” Mitchell conducted a meta-analysis of the existing body of research that examines whether African American’s are treated more harshly than similarly situated whites. Mitchell utilized data from 71 published and unpublished studies to assess if African Americans and whites are sentenced differently, independent of offense seriousness and defendant criminal history, and to understand in which types of cases and social contexts is unwarranted racial disparity most likely to exist. Analyses indicated that, independent of other measured factors, African-Americans generally are sentenced more harshly than whites.  Findings indicate that policymakers need to re-evaluate the racial neutrality of sentencing practices both generally and especially in regards to drug offense and discretionary sentencing decisions in order to ensure that sentencing is done fairly across race and level of offense.

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