Black Men’s Sentences 20 Percent Longer Than White Men’s For Similar Crimes

Black men are sen­tenced to far more time in prison than white men for com­mit­ting sim­i­lar crimes, accord­ing to a new report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

report released last week from the USSC ― an inde­pen­dent agency of the U.S. judi­cial branch ― looked at fed­er­al prison sen­tences in the United States from Oct. 1, 2011, to Sept. 30, 2016, and found that black male offend­ers received sen­tences on aver­age 19.1 per­cent longer than those of “sim­i­lar­ly sit­u­at­ed” white male offend­ers.

The com­mis­sion also fac­tored in offend­ers’ crim­i­nal his­to­ries to look at whether vio­lence in offend­ers’ pasts could account for the racial dis­par­i­ties ― and found that it did not. Looking at 2016, the only year for which such data was avail­able, the com­mis­sion found that, after con­trol­ling for crim­i­nal his­to­ry, black men still received 20.4 per­cent longer sen­tences than did white men.

This report’s find­ings match those of a pre­vi­ous USSC report from 2007 to 2011, which found a near­ly 20 per­cent gap in sen­tences between black and white men.

The per­cent­age dif­fer­ence in sen­tence length between black and white male offend­ers has increased from 1998 to 2016. Red is 1998 to 2003, green is 2003 to 2004, blue is 2005 to 2007, black is 2007 to 2011 and yel­low is 2011 to 2016.

The racial dis­par­i­ties in sen­tenc­ing appear to have increased over the last two decades, wors­en­ing specif­i­cal­ly after 2005.

According to old­er USSC reports, the gap between black and white men in sen­tenc­ing was about 11 per­cent for 1998 to 2003 and 5 per­cent for 2003 to 2005. But it jumped to 15 per­cent for 2005 to 2007 and to near­ly 20 per­cent there­after.

USSC not­ed in a 2010 report that the dif­fer­ences in sen­tence length between black and white male offend­ers “have increased steadi­ly” since the Supreme Court ruled in 2005 in United States v. Booker to increase judges’ dis­cre­tion in sen­tenc­ing.

But the fac­tors con­tribut­ing to racial dis­par­i­ties in sen­tenc­ing are com­plex, accord­ing to Marc Mauer, direc­tor of the non­prof­it Sentencing Project. Judges aren’t the only fac­tor, or nec­es­sar­i­ly even the biggest, in sen­tenc­ing dis­par­i­ties.

It’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly racist judges,” Mauer told HuffPost by email Friday. “But much of [the] dis­par­i­ty [is] like­ly due to deci­sion-mak­ing by pros­e­cu­tors.”

Mauer point­ed to research from schol­ars Sonja Starr and Marit Rehavi, which found that pros­e­cu­tors “have a huge impact on sen­tences,” as they have broad dis­cre­tion in how to charge an offend­er or whether to offer a plea-bar­gain.

Overall, sen­tenc­ing is just one part of the broad­er prob­lem of racial dis­crim­i­na­tion in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem: Black peo­ple are incar­cer­at­ed in U.S. state pris­ons at more than five times the rate of white peo­ple. https://​www​.huff​in​g​ton​post​.com/​e​n​t​r​y​/​b​l​a​c​k​-​w​h​i​t​e​-​s​e​n​t​e​n​c​i​n​g​-​c​r​i​m​i​n​a​l​-​j​u​s​t​i​c​e​-​r​e​p​o​r​t​_​u​s​_​5​a​0​f​8​2​9​5​e​4​b​0​e​9​7​d​f​f​e​d​6​6​a​0​?​n​c​i​d​=​i​n​b​l​n​k​u​s​h​p​m​g​0​0​0​0​0​009