SOURCE: In studies that consider all relevant variables—such as the defendant’s prior criminal record, the severity of the crime in question, the offender’s demeanor with police, whether a weapon was used, and whether the crime in question was victim precipitated—no differences have been found in sentencing patterns, either in relation to the victim’s race or the offender’s race.
In 1983, the liberal-leaning National Academy of Sciences found “no evidence of a widespread systematic pattern of discrimination in sentencing.” In 1985, the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology concluded that a disproportionate number of blacks were in prison not because of a double standard of justice, but because of the disproportionate number of crimes they committed. That same year, federal government statistician Patrick Langan conducted an exhaustive study of black and white incarceration rates and found that “even if racism [in sentencing] exists, it might help explain only a small part of the gap between the 11 percent black representation in the United States’ adult population and the now nearly 50 percent black representation among persons entering state prisons each year in the United States.” In a 1987 review essay of the three most comprehensive books examining the role of race in the American criminal justice system, the journal Criminology concluded that there was little evidence of antiblack discrimination. A 1991 RAND Corporation study found that a defendant’s racial or ethnic group affiliation bore little or no relationship to conviction rates; far more important than race were such factors as the amount of evidence against the defendant, and whether or not a credible eyewitness testified. This same study found almost no relation between a defendant’s race or ethnicity and his or her likelihood of receiving a severe sentence. A 1993 study by the National Academy of Sciences agreed that race had a negligible effect on sentencing. Also in 1993, a study of federal sentencing guidelines found no evidence of racially disparate punishments for perpetrators of similar offenses. The seriousness of the crime, the offender’s prior criminal record, and whether weapons were used accounted for all the observed interracial variations of prison sentences.
In 1995, Patrick Langan analyzed data on 42,500 defendants in America’s 75 largest counties and found “no evidence that in the places where blacks in the United States have most of their contacts with the justice system, that system treats them more harshly than whites.” A 1996 analysis of 55,000 big-city felony cases found that black defendants were convicted at a lower rate than whites in 12 of the 14 federally designated felony categories. This finding is consistent with the overwhelming consensus of other recent studies, most of which indicate that black defendants are slightly less likely to be convicted of criminal charges against them than white defendants. Liberal criminologist Michael Tonry wrote in his 1996 book Malign Neglect: “Racial differences in patterns of offending, not racial bias by police and other officials, are the principal reason that such greater proportions of blacks than whites are arrested, prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned.” The following year, liberal criminologists Robert Sampson and Janet Lauritsen concurred that “large racial differences in criminal offending,” not racism, accounted for the fact that blacks were likelier than whites to be in prison and serving longer terms.