Black and white may not be the same in the U.S. courts

Black and white may not be the same in the U.S. courts (Image source:
Black and white may not be the same in the U.S. courts (Image source:

Main Point:

In the U.S., black colored offenders may face more severe decisions as compared to white colored offenders.

Published in:

Journal of Quantitative Criminology

Study Further:

In a study, researchers tried to find the racial factors behind criminal sentencing in the U.S. They analyzed more than 17,000 decisions. They studied the flexibility of judges while sentencing decisions. Moreover, they collected data from South Carolina, where there were no sentencing guidelines. Results of the study showed inequalities in sentences lengths as well as imprisoning rates for minority offenders.

The U.S. courts show more chances of racial bias while sentencing decisions. In making decisions for unambiguous cases such as repeating or more serious crimes, judges have no choice but to give severe punishments without considering extra-legal aspects such as race. However, in case of unambiguous cases, judges may start showing bias. Study shows that black colored criminals are more likely to be jailed as compared to white colored criminals. Moreover, black colored criminals could face longer sentences for less severe crimes.

Dr Todd Hartman, one of the researchers in the study said in a statement, “Much of the recent media focus in the U.S. has been on racial disparities in law enforcement, most notably with coverage of police shootings, excessive force, and unlawful deaths. Of course, this is just part of the story, as contact with law enforcement is only the first stage of the criminal justice system.

“Whether intentional or not, the fact that race appears to influence incarceration and criminal sentencing decisions is troubling. It is particularly concerning that this pattern of disparity appears to be affecting African American offenders with limited criminal histories or for less severe crimes.

“We hope that our quantitative modelling approach will be helpful to researchers studying criminal sentencing, as well as raise awareness of this potential bias in sentencing decisions.”


Hester, R., & Hartman, T. (2016). Conditional Race Disparities in Criminal Sentencing: A Test of the Liberation Hypothesis From a Non-Guidelines State Journal of Quantitative Criminology DOI: 10.1007/s10940-016-9283-z

Usman Zafar Paracha

Usman Zafar Paracha is a sort of entrepreneur. He is the author of "Color Atlas of Statistics", and the owner of an Android game "Faily Rocket."