Trends in Prison Sentences and Racial Disparities: 20-Years of Sentencing Under Florida’s Criminal Punishment Code

  • Ojmarrh Mitchell (Arizona State University) (Creator)
  • Shi Yan (Creator)
  • Daniela Oramas Mora (Creator)



ObjectivesThe U.S. prison population has fallen 15% overall, 28% for Blacks, and 21% for Hispanics since the Great Recession began. These trends occurred despite rising defendant criminal histories and the continued presence of the punitive policies that drove “mass incarceration.” We test the central hypothesis that court actors employed several discretionary tools available under Florida's sentencing system to reduce prison use, which in turn reduced direct and indirect racial disparities.MethodsTo test this hypothesis, we utilized 20 years of felony cases. Our analyses employ current best practices for testing interactive effects and decomposition models to identify changes in prison use and the factors associated with these changes.ResultsWe find criminal history scores rose sharply, but prison use and racial disparities therein fell markedly in the past decade. The key factors driving these trends are reductions in the influence of criminal history on decision-making, increased use of mitigated departures, and the flexibility of Florida's sentencing system to accommodate mitigated departures. In fact, if Florida's sentencing rules had been followed more closely, racial disparities in prison sentences would have grown.ConclusionsThis research has implications for reforms aimed at ending mass incarceration and reducing racial disparities in imprisonment.
Date made available2022
PublisherSAGE Journals

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