Extralegal Factors in Felony Sentencing: Classes of Behavior or Classes of People?

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The radical-conflict perspective of criminology stresses that legal sanctions are applied more against classes of people than classes of behavior. To test this proposition we took a class of behaviors–sex offenses–and a class of people–designated “normal primitives”–in an attempt to determine which of the groups accounted for more of the variance in sentence severity. We found that although sex offenders enjoyed considerably higher social status than did normal primitives, sex offender status accounted for more than eight times the amount of variance in sentence severity than did normal primitive status after controlling for legally relevant variables. These findings cast doubt on class-based models of sentencing.