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A Look at Some Empirical Data Re Sentencing Outcomes


That some individuals receive disproportionately harsher sentencing outcomes than do others charged with similar criminal offenses is far more than a mere suspicion held by criminal law commentators.

In fact, it is a fact that has long been recognized by enforcement officials, attorneys, government officials, reformers and many other individuals and groups across American society.

Take race, for example. Here’s a fundamentally telling comment from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

“Black males receive harsher sentences than white males after accounting for the facts surrounding the case,” states a recent report from that federal entity, which adds that “we also find that the sentencing disparity has grown.”

Are there additional elements unrelated to race that can be pointed to as factors driving differentiated sentencing outcomes among criminal defendants?

One recent academic study points to educational level as one such element, with the study’s author pointing to compiled evidence that shows a correlation between level attained and its impact on both (1) the likelihood of a prison term and (2) the length of an imposed sentence.

As for the former, evidence culled from the criminal records of scores of thousands of individuals reveals that persons who completed high school are approximately 10% less likely to be sentenced to a prison term than are defendants who never received a high school diploma.

And then there’s this finding: Graduates who are sentenced to prison spend a bit less time there on average than do their less educated counterparts.

The central study findings are buttressed by additional research, including a working paper conclusion from the U.S. Census Bureau that America’s inmate population collectively has less formal education than what features in the general population.