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Short- versus long-term effects of Ohio's switch to more structured sentencing on extralegal disparities in prison sentences in an urban court

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Research Summary

The impact of Ohio's presumptive guidelines on sentencing disparities was examined for one of the state's largest jurisdictions to determine whether the switch to more structured sentencing in 1996 had any enduring effects. Sentencing patterns were examined both before and shortly after the 1996 reform, as well as 9 years later. Findings revealed weaker race and marital status effects on imprisonment under guidelines versus stronger age effects, no changes in disparities based on a defendant's sex and means of support, and (virtually) no changes in the magnitude of legally relevant effects.

Policy Implications

Ohio's guidelines are more flexible relative to other guideline schemes, possibly accounting for the general stability in effects across regimes. Ohio has since transitioned to voluntary guidelines, which raised concerns that the change will yield higher levels of sentencing disparities. Findings suggest that the transition may coincide with no changes in legal effects, yet with greater disparities based on a defendant's race and marital status.

Keywords: extralegal disparities; prison sentences; sentencing guidelines

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Professor in the Division of Criminal Justice at the University of Cincinnati.

Publication date: May 1, 2009


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