Expanding Our Understanding of Focal Concerns: Alternative Sentences, Race, and “Salvageability”

Miranda A. Galvin, Jeffery T. Ulmer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Research on when alternatives to incarceration are available–and for whom–is underdeveloped. In this study we introduce the concept of “salvageability” as a fourth focal concern guiding the decisions of court actors. In assessing salvageability, actors must consider the casual reasons behind offenders’ criminal involvement and the extent to which those causes can be ameliorated through rehabilitative programming. This process of causal attribution likely exacerbates racial disparity in sentences. We test whether offender race, gender, and prior histories of substance use affect assessments of salvageability as indicated by prosecutor decisions to pre-screen offenders for admittance into an intensive rehabilitation alternative sentence in Pennsylvania using linked data from the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing and the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. Results suggest that black offenders are substantially less likely to be referred for the rehabilitative program even if that referral would be an upward departure from a guidelines-conforming sentence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1332-1353
Number of pages22
JournalJustice Quarterly
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law


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