Older men and older women in the arms of criminal law: Offending patterns and sentencing outcomes

Darrell Steffensmeier, Mark Motivans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Objectives. This study examines whether older defendants receive more lenient sentences compared with their younger counterparts and whether the effects of aging on sentencing outcomes manifests itself similarly across mate and female offenders. Methods. Using statewide data from Pennsylvania for 1990-94, logit models were used to assets the effects of aging on the in/out or incarcerative decision, and, ordinary least squares models were used to assess the effects on the length-of-term decision. Results. Results show that older offenders of both genders were sentenced less harshly - they are less likely to be imprisoned than their younger counterparts and, if imprisoned, elderly defendants receive shorter prison terms. How ever, the elderly advantage was diminished in the case of drug offending, and the within-gender elderly advantage was found to be greater for males than for women. Discussion. While these age differences in sentence outcomes appear to thwart norms of judicial impartiality, they also might reflect legitimate sentencing concerns of judges (in areas such as crime propensity, blameworthiness, and even the extra costs needed to jail older defendants). Therefore, an overall pattern of less severe punishment of older defendants (and/or female defendants) may still be warranted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S141-S151
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2000

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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