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Cumulative Disadvantage: Examining Racial and Ethnic Disparity in Prosecution and Sentencing

  • Organization: Vera Institute of Justice
  • Document Type: Brief/Motion Papers
  • Date Created: Wednesday, April 15, 2015
  • Submitted: Wednesday, April 15, 2015
  • Attachment(s): LINK

Current research on criminal case processing typically examines a single decision-making point, so drawing reliable conclusions about the impact that factors such as defendants’ race or ethnicity exert across successive stages of the justice system is difficult. Using data from the New York County District Attorney's Office that tracks 185,275 diverse criminal cases, this study assesses racial and ethnic disparity for multiple discretionary points of prosecution and sentencing. Findings from multivariate logistic regression analyses demonstrate that the effects of race and ethnicity vary by discretionary point and offense category. Black and Latino defendants were more likely than White defendants to be detained, to receive a custodial plea offer, and to be incarcerated—and they received especially punitive outcomes for person offenses—but were more likely to benefit from case dismissals. The findings for Asian defendants were less consistent but suggest they were the least likely to be detained, to receive custodial offers, and to be incarcerated. These findings are discussed in the context of contemporary theoretical perspectives on racial bias and cumulative disadvantage in the justice system.

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