Race and disparities in sentencing: A test of the liberation hypothesis

Cassia Spohn, Jerry Cederblom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

154 Scopus citations


This paper builds on Kalven and Zeisel's "liberation hypothesis" and explores the possibility that racial discrlmlnation in sentencing is confined to less serious cases. We examined the sentences imposed on defendants convicted of violent felonies in Detroit. We found that defendant's race had a direct effect only on the decision to incarcerate but had indirect effects on both incarceration and sentence length. Further analysis revealed an interaction between the race of the d~fendant, the seriousness of the case, and the harshness of the sentence. Using a number of measures of the seriousness of the case, we found that race had a significant effect on incarceration only in less serious cases. Our findings provide dramatic sup* port for the liberation hypothesis and highlight the importance of using an interactive rather than an additive model in sentencing research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)305-326
Number of pages22
JournalJustice Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1991
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law


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