Studyspark Study Document

The US Sentencing System Disparities and Discrimination Essay

Pages:8 (2275 words)



Topic:Criminal Justice System

Document Type:Essay



A defendant that has successfully been prosecuted and then found guilty will have their sentence determined and read out by a judge at the sentencing hearing. The sentencing hearing can only take place after the criminal conviction. During the sentencing hearing, the judge will have to decide on a sentence or a punishment based on the maximum and minimum sentences for the particular crime, as stipulated in the penal code. While all this sounds straightforward, there have been many cases recorded of discrimination and disparity in sentencing (Spohn, 2008). 

With regards to sentencing, a disparity exists in two ways – when offenders who are different get the same punishment, and when similar offenders get different punishments. More specifically, a disparity exists when judges impose the same punishment/ sentence on offenders who have very different crimes and criminal histories and when judges impose different punishments on offenders who have carried out identical crimes and have identical criminal past. Sentencing discrimination is a bit different from sentencing disparity, and it exists in several ways. First, sentencing discrimination exists when legally irrelevant characteristics are taken into consideration by judges when they are imposing sentences. Second, it exists when judges impose harsher sentences on male offenders than on female offenders for similar crimes. Third, it exists when judges impose harsher sentences on offenders who are poor than on offenders who are rich for similar crimes. Lastly, it exists when judges impose harsher sentences on offenders who are persons of color than on Caucasian offenders for similar crimes (Spohn, 2008). 

The Supreme Court Building has a phrase engraved on it. The phrase reads, “Equal justice under the law.” However, for the poor, for persons of color, and many other groups, this phrase does not mean much. This is because they face discrimination at sentencing and other stages of the criminal justice system. For example, the poor in the United States in America are more likely to be arrested, more likely to get low-quality legal representation, and more likely to get maximum sentences than the rich. The paper’s goal is to investigate sentencing discrimination and disparities in the American criminal justice system (Spohn, 2008). 

Sentencing Disparities and Discrimination

Despite the increased focus on discrimination and leadership changes at the federal justice department, disparities and discrimination persist at different levels of the American criminal justice system. This, in no way, means that the American criminal justice system is set up to discriminate against certain populations in the United States intentionally. What it means is that certain populations are more likely to face discrimination at the different levels of the criminal justice system. For example, it has been found that African Americans are more likely to be subjected to traffic stops than Caucasians. They are three times more prone to be subjected to a traffic stop than white Americans. It has also been found that African Americans are more likely to be imprisoned and to receive harsher sentences than their white counterparts (Mauer, 2010).

Discrimination and disparities also exist in many jurisdictions with regards to how the “war on drugs” is conducted. It is now well known that discrimination and disparities in how the war on drugs is conducted have led to many persons of color being incarcerated. Discrimination can be seen in the fact that the war is focused on neighborhoods with African Americans and Latin Americans. This has resulted in the disproportionate increase of persons of color in detention centers and facing drug-related charges. And sentencing disparities and discrimination have resulted in more persons of color serving longer or harsher sentences when found guilty of drug-related offenses. This is how there are disproportionately more African Americans and Latin Americans in prisons across the country (Mauer, 2010).

To put the above information into context, in 2005, of the total drug users in the United States, only 14 percent were African Americans. However, nearly 35 percent of the people arrested by the police for drug-related offenses were African Americans, and over 50 percent of the people sentenced for drug-related offenses were of the same race. The above statistics show several things. They show that the war on drugs is irrationally focused on African Americans. They show that police…

Some parts of this document are missing

Click here to view full document

…what is recommended. And the explanation should never be the race of the offender (Yang, 2015).

Adopting the sentencing system detailed above would have multiple benefits. First, it would virtually remove judicial discretion because judges will have to consult a standardized system during sentencing. This will significantly reduce racial bias and prejudices and probably do away with sentencing discrimination and disparities. Judges will have a much-reduced ability to impose sentences based on their biases, ideals, and beliefs. Second, if the sentencing system is well-designed, it will ensure that only the factors and characteristics that are warranted and very important are considered during sentencing and not trivial factors or whose consideration is racist (Yang, 2015).

Third, if the sentencing system, the mitigating factors, and the offender characteristics are properly designed, they will reduce racial sentencing disparity without considering race. This will automatically result in all types of people being likely to receive the same sentence for the same crime. The reduced racial disparities will also help to increase the confidence of minorities, such as Hispanics and African Americans in the criminal justice system (Yang, 2015).

Lastly, the sentencing system would be in agreement with what community activists, commentators, and legislators are saying right now, which is the fact that offender characteristics and mitigating factors ought to be considered. The many benefits of a new sentencing system can also help to reduce prison overcrowding, cut rehabilitation costs, result in petty offenders being warned rather than punished by the system, and equalize the prison system by treating everyone fairly (Yang, 2015).


The American criminal justice system has many disparities. The way the system handles white Americans is different from how it handles people of color. Colored communities are more likely to be stopped and searched, more likely to be arrested, and more likely to be given harsher or longer sentences. This has resulted in a disproportionately higher number of persons of color in prisons, particularly African Americans. Sentencing disparities and sentencing discrimination are among the biggest issues that the American criminal justice system has to deal with. A new sentencing system that…

Sample Source(s) Used


Daly, K., & Tonry, M. (1997). Gender, Race, and Sentencing. Crime and Justice, 22, 201-252. Retrieved May 26, 2020, from

Farrell, A., Ward, G., & Rousseau, D. (2010). Intersections of gender and race in federal sentencing: examining court contexts and the effects of representative court authorities. Journal of Gender, Race, and Justice, 1, 85.

Hessick, C. B. (2010). Race and gender as explicit sentencing factors. Journal of Gender, Race, and Justice, 1, 127.

Mauer, M. (2010). Justice for all challenging racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Hum. Rts., 37, 14.

Smith, D. (2006). Narrowing Racial Disparities in Sentencing through a System of Mandatory Downward Departures. The Modern American, Summer 2006, 32–37.

Spohn, C. (2008). How do judges decide?: the search for fairness and justice in punishment. Sage Publications.

Yang, C. S. (2015). Free at last? Judicial discretion and racial disparities in federal sentencing. The Journal of Legal Studies, 44(1), 75-111.

Cite this Document

Join thousands of other students and "spark your studies."

Sign Up for FREE
Related Documents

Studyspark Study Document

Disparity Discrimination Disparity and Discrimination

Pages: 2 (615 words) Sources: 2 Subject: Race Document: #80902474

This suggests that where racial characteristics are invoked during the process of administering criminal justice, it has been done in order to intentionally subject the minority race to some form of unequal treatment based on his or her race. It is this orientation that produces the sociological condition called disparity, particularly legislated policy acts unwittingly on underlying biases. So is this noted by Williams (2009), who points to the disparities

Studyspark Study Document

Discrimination Against Minorities Is Rampant

Pages: 7 (2062 words) Sources: 5 Subject: Criminal Justice Document: #97234069

The other effect of the discriminatory judicial system is that non-whites are usually targeted by the system in an unfair manner. For instance, Latinos are usually and in certain instances explicitly singled out for the process of immigration enforcement. Close to ninety-four percent of all the illegal immigrants who are arrested by the INS are of Mexican origin. The Immigration and Naturalization Service itself however states that only about fifty four

Studyspark Study Document

Sentencing Determinate Sentencing, Impacts, and Recent Trends

Pages: 3 (985 words) Sources: 3 Subject: Criminal Justice Document: #57816235

Sentencing Determinate Sentencing, Impacts, and Recent Trends Determinate Sentencing Impact on Probationary Terms Reasons for choosing mandatory minimum jail and prison sentences Role of Mandatory Sentences in Reducing Recidivism The legal system is reliant on two different approaches for sentencing the offenders. The determinate and indeterminate sentencing is discussed in detail. The recent trend towards determinate sentencing and their impacts are also elaborated. The reasons for choosing determinate sentencing and its role in reducing recidivism are

Studyspark Study Document

Disparities in Sentencing As Blacks

Pages: 6 (2022 words) Sources: 1+ Subject: Sports - Drugs Document: #55001417

"African-Americans now serve virtually as much time in prison for a drug offense (58.7 months) as whites do for a violent offense (61.7 months)" (Compendium 2004, 112).The Commission reported in 2004 that "[r]evising the crack cocaine thresholds would better reduce the [sentencing] gap than any other single policy change, and it would dramatically improve the fairness of the federal sentencing system" (USSC 2004, 132). As a result, the African-American

Studyspark Study Document

Disparity and Discrimination in the

Pages: 2 (605 words) Sources: 3 Subject: Criminal Justice Document: #90805201

Researchers have recently conducted a study of the racial disparity in the military justice system which seems to mirror the results discovered about the criminal justice system. Since the Supreme Court re-instituted the death penalty in 1976, the U.S. military has executed 16 personnel, 10 of whom were minorities. The researchers found that while the system was not inherently discriminatory, individuals within the system were acting in a discriminatory way.

Studyspark Study Document

Sentencing Reforms Have Reduced Disparity

Pages: 2 (634 words) Sources: 1 Subject: Criminal Justice Document: #92337893

Interestingly, females tend to receive lesser sentences than males, although that disparity disappears in crimes that are more serious. These characteristics show themselves in state courts, too, which indicates that disparity and discrimination still exist despite the sentence reforms that were supposed to do away with them. It seems that sentences are actually harsher now than when sentencing reforms were first created, and that people expect harsher penalties for those

Join thousands of other students and

"spark your studies".