Research investigating the relationship between the defendant’s race and sentence severity has not consistently supported the conflict perspective’s contention that blacks will be sentenced more harshly than whites. Although a number of studies have uncovered such a link (Spohn et al. 1981-1982; Petersilia 1983; Zatz 1984), others have found either that there are no significant racial differences (Klein et al. 1990) or that blacks are sentenced more leniently than whites (Levin 1972; Bernstein et al. 1977; Gibson 1978). The failure of research to produce uniform findings of racial discrimination in sentencing has led to conflicting conclusions. Some researchers (Hagan 1974; Kleck 1981; Pruitt and Wilson 1983) assert that racial discrimination in sentencing has declined over time and contend that the predictive power of race, once relevant legal factors are taken into account, is quite low. Others (Klepper et al. 1983; Zatz 1987) claim that discrimination has not declined or disappeared but simply has become more subtle and difficult to detect. These researchers argue that race affects sentence severity indirectly through its effect on variables such as bail status (Lizotte 1978; LaFree 1985) or type of attorney (Spohn et al. 1981-1982) or that race interacts with other variables and affects sentence severity only in particular types of cases (Barnett 1985; Spohn and Cederblom 1991) or for particular types of defendants (Peterson and Hagan 1984; Walsh 1987; LaFree 1989).
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Social Sciences(all)