Prison Sentences for Black Men Nearly 20 Percent Longer Than Whites

Since the Supreme Court restored judicial discretion in 2005, the racial gap in sentencing has widened.

Posted: 02/15/2013 11:30 AM EST

Prison sentences given to Black men were 19.5 percent longer than those for white men for the same crimes between December 2007 and September 2011, according to a report by the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

In 2005, the Supreme Court continued judicial discretion, which allows federal judges more power to make decisions outside of sentencing guidelines. Since this change, the racial gap in sentencing has widened.

The Commission is suggesting federal judges "give sentencing guidelines more weight, and that appeals courts more closely scrutinize sentences that fall beyond them," according to The Wall Street Journal. 

The Wall Street Journal reports:

The commission, which is part of the judicial branch, was careful to avoid the implication of racism among federal judges, acknowledging that they "make sentencing decisions based on many legitimate considerations that are not or cannot be measured."

Still, the findings drew criticism from advocacy groups and researchers, who said the commission's focus on the very end of the criminal justice process ignored possible bias at earlier stages, such as when a person is arrested and charged, or enters into a plea deal with prosecutors.

"They've only got data on this final slice of the process, but they are still missing crucial parts of the criminal-justice process," said Sonja Starr, a law professor at the University of Michigan, who has analyzed sentencing and arrest data and found no marked increase in racial disparity since 2005.

Read full story here.

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(Photo: REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

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