(Un)anticipated Effects of Sentencing Reform on the Disparate Treatment of Defendants
Despite concerns over racial disparities in imprisonment across the United States, little empirical attention has been paid to how changing the structure of sentencing might affect levels of disparity. This article examines whether Ohio's shift to determinate sentencing corresponded with significant changes in legal and extralegal effects on case outcomes, both generally and differentially for African American and white defendants. Bilevel analyses of felony defendants from 24 jurisdictions reveal relatively few substantive changes in these effects over time. Some changes involved reductions in race-related disparities (e.g., in the severity of charges convicted on), with others reflecting increased disparity (e.g., higher imprisonment likelihoods for African Americans). Findings underscore a modest link between restructured sentencing and actual case outcomes overall, with some relatively mixed effects on levels of disparity.
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