Examining the Treatment of Native American Defendants in United States Federal Courts

Project: Research project

Project Details


Examining the Treatment of Native American Defendants in United States Federal Courts Examining the Treatment of Native American Defendants in United States Federal Courts Racial and ethnic disparity in federal sentencing is an important concern to scholars and policy makers. Literature suggests that Blacks and Hispanics are sentenced more harshly than similarly situated White offenders. These findings are troubling since defendants of color who are meted out tougher punishments face substantial social and economic difficulties thereafter, and supports the idea that minorities are treated unfairly by the justice system. While Black-Hispanic-White disparities are understood, less is known about whether disparities extend to other minority groups. This research gap indicates that little can be gleaned about the treatment of these groups. I propose a study that examines the treatment and sentencing of Native American defendants. The central research question I seek to answer is whether Native American defendants are disproportionately meted out harsher treatment in federal courts. Specifically, I examine 1) cumulative disadvantage for Native American defendants at multiple decision points, 2) Native American-White disadvantage across time, and 3) the effect of social context on Native American-White disadvantage. This study utilizes the focal concerns and minority threat perspectives to address disparate sentencing practices and their negative implications for Native Americans. It is hypothesized that Native American defendants will receive harsher outcomes at multiple decision points, thus suffering from cumulative disadvantage; this disadvantage is likely to have increased over time and to be affected by social context. The data used to answer these questions are from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, Bureau of Prisons, Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, U.S. Marshall Service, the U.S. Sentencing Commission, and the U.S. Census. These data are suitable to answer my questions for several reasons. First, the data include rich information that is relevant to understanding how Native Americans are treated in federal courts (e.g., demographic, offense severity, criminal history). Second, the data contain multiple decision points and are longitudinal (18 years), permitting observation of changes to sentencing practices across time. Third, the data include a large number of Native American defendants allowing for meaningful findings related to Native Americans. The proposed questions will be answered using the following strategies: logistic regression, ordinary least squares regression, and hierarchical linear modeling. Results from the proposed study will be presented at conferences that are of interest to practitioners and policy makers in criminal justice and the research community. Several scholarly articles will be written for criminal justice and sociological journals.
Effective start/end date1/1/1611/30/17


  • DOJ-OJP: Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS): $43,000.00


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