Race and Discretionary Sentencing: An Analysis of "Obvious" and "Nonobvious" Cases

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This study explores the effects of race on sentencing for 666 felony offenders. I found that whites were significantly more likely to be incarcerated than blacks after adjusting for crime seriousness and prior record, as measured by the sentencing guidelines employed by the courts in the jurisdiction from which the sample was obtained. Looking at "nonobvious" cases (as determined by the sentencing guideline), I found that whites were 2.5 times more likely to be imprisoned than were blacks. When sentence length was examined among those who were imprisoned, no significant racial effect was found. However, among those offenders who were placed on probation, significantly harsher probation terms were imposed on whites than were imposed on blacks.