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

Traci Burch*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations

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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)395-420
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Empirical Legal Studies
Volume12
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Law

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