Offending and Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Criminal Justice: A Conceptual Framework for Guiding Theory and Research and Informing Policy

Daniel P. Mears, Joshua C. Cochran, Andrea M. Lindsey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

19 Scopus citations


Scholars and policy makers have expressed concern that observed minority differences in processing (e.g., arrest, detention, conviction) and sentencing stem not from the legal merits of cases but rather from intentional or unintentional discrimination. An additional concern is that there may be disparities in society that lead to offending differences among racial and ethnic groups, and that these differences may be amplified by disparities that minorities experience in and through the criminal justice system. In this article, we identify the dimensions along which information is needed to document minority disparities in criminal justice processing and sanctioning and to guide interventions to reduce them. We conclude that research to date has not systematically documented the true prevalence of minority disparities in criminal justice processing or sanctioning or the causes of them. We then argue that social structural disparities faced by minorities warrant comparable attention to that given to criminal justice disparities. Documentation of these disparities and their causes will be necessary to shed light on the exercise of formal social control. It also can contribute to efforts to understand offending and how most effectively to reduce crime and unfair sanctioning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)78-103
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2016
Externally publishedYes



  • disparity
  • ethnicity
  • inequality
  • race

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law

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