Ethnicity and judges' sentencing decisions: Hispanic-black-white comparisons

Darrell Steffensmeier, Stephen Demuth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

296 Scopus citations


This study uses data on Pennsylvania sentencing practices to compare the sentence outcomes of white, black, and Hispanic defendants. Besides the overall more lenient treatment of white defendants, our main finding is that Hispanic defendants are the defendant subgroup most at risk to receive the harshest penalty. This pattern is held across all comparisons - i.e., for both the in/out and term-length decisions and for both drug and nondrug cases. These findings are consistent with the "focal concerns" framework on sentencing and with hypotheses drawn from the writings on prejudice and intergroup hostility suggesting that the specific social and historical context facing Hispanic Americans will exacerbate perceptions of their cultural dissimilarity and the "threat" they pose.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)145-178
Number of pages34
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2001

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law


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