Skin Color and the Criminal Justice System: Beyond Black‐White Disparities in Sentencing

26 Pages Posted: 21 Aug 2015  

Traci Burch

Northwestern University - Department of Political Science; American Bar Foundation

Date Written: September 2015

Abstract

This article analyzes sentencing outcomes for black and white men in Georgia. The analysis uses sentencing data collected by the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC). Among first‐time offenders, both the race‐only models and race and skin color models estimate that, on average, blacks receive sentences that are 4.25 percent higher than those of whites even after controlling for legally‐relevant factors such as the type of crime. However, the skin color model also shows us that this figure hides important intraracial differences in sentence length: while medium‐ and dark‐skinned blacks receive sentences that are about 4.8 percent higher than those of whites, lighter‐skinned blacks receive sentences that are not statistically significantly different from those of whites. After controlling for socioeconomic status in the race‐only and race and skin color models the remaining difference between whites and dark‐ and medium‐skinned blacks increases slightly, to 5.5 percent. These findings are discussed with respect to the implications for public policy and for racial hierarchy in the United States.

Suggested Citation

Burch, Traci, Skin Color and the Criminal Justice System: Beyond Black‐White Disparities in Sentencing (September 2015). Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, Vol. 12, Issue 3, pp. 395-420, 2015. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2648648 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jels.12077

Traci Burch (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Department of Political Science ( email )

601 University Place (Scott Hall)
Evanston, IL 60201
United States

American Bar Foundation

750 N. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

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