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Berman [Ohio State]: Race and reform

Douglas Berman [Moritz College of Law, Ohio State University]:

"With the exception of a powerful opinion column in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (discussed here), I have not seen much examination of racial disparities in all the debate over possible responses to Blakely and Booker.  Of course, much of the history of sentencing reform, both in the capital and non-capital arenas, has been influenced by express or implicit concerns about racial disparities and discriminatory decision-making in the criminal justice system.  Moreover, there are many who contend that guideline reforms intended to achieve greater uniformity have, at least in some ways, exacerbated racial disparities.

To its great credit, the US Sentencing Commission's recently released 15-year report, which merits a central place in the debate over any Congressional response to Booker, gives particular attention to racial disparity issues in this chapter. (The full report can be accessed here, its executive summary can be accessed here, and my summary of the executive summary is here.)  And today I received a link to another important contribution from The Sentencing Project in the form of a new publication entitled Racial Disparity in Sentencing:  A Review of the Literature.

This report, which is sobering reading and can be accessed here, examines the research findings of major studies of racial disparity at both the state and federal level and finds that "while racial dynamics have changed over time, race still exerts an undeniable presence in the sentencing process."  The report also asserts that "evidence of direct discrimination at the federal level is more prominent than at the state level." [January 27, 2005: Sentencing and Policy Blog has the post.]

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