Sentencing/Post Conviction

Black prisoners are given longer sentences than whites, study says

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Black men in prison on average are given sentences nearly 20 percent longer than those served by white men for similar crimes, new sentencing data shows.

The data is contained in a report by the U.S. Sentencing Commission that was submitted to Congress last month and made public this week, the Wall Street Journal (sub.req.) reports.

According to the report, sentences for black males were 19.5 percent longer than those for similarly situated white males between December 2007 and September 2011, the most recent period covered in the report. The commission also found that black males were 25 percent less likely than whites to receive a sentence below the sentencing guidelines.

A separate analysis of the data that excluded sentences of probation showed the same pattern, although the racial disparity was less pronounced. Black men on average were given sentences 14.5 percent longer than whites.

The findings show that the racial divide in sentencing has widened since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2005 ruling in U.S. v. Booker, which struck down a 1984 law requiring judges to impose sentences within the sentencing guidelines. In the two years after the Booker ruling, sentences for blacks on average were 15.2 percent longer than those for similarly situated whites.

The commission’s report recommends that federal judges give the sentencing guidelines more weight and that federal appeals courts give more scrutiny to sentences that fall outside the guidelines.

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