The imprisonment penalty paid by young, unemployed black and hispanic male offenders

Cassia Spohn, David Holleran

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

406 Scopus citations


A recent study of sentencing decisions in Pennsylvania (Steffensmeier et al., 1998) identified significant interrelationships among race, gender, age, and sentence severity. The authors of this study found that each of the three offender characteristics had significant direct effects on sentence outcomes and that the characteristics interacted to produce substantially harsher sentences for one category of offenders - young black males. This study responds to Steffensmeier et al.'s (1998:789) call for "further research analyzing how race effects may be mediated by other factors." We replicate their research approach, examining the intersections of the effects of race, gender, and age on sentence outcomes. We extend their analysis in three ways: We examine sentence outcomes in three large urban jurisdictions; we include Hispanics as well as blacks and test for interactions between ethnicity, age, and gender; and we test for interactions between race/ethnicity, gender, and employment status. Our results are generally - although not entirely -consistent with the results of the Pennsylvania study. Although none of the offender characteristics affects the length of the prison sentence, each has a significant direct effect on the likelihood of incarceration in at least one of the jurisdictions. More importantly, the four offender characteristics interact to produce harsher sentences for certain types of offenders. Young black and Hispanic males face greater odds of incarceration than middle-aged white males, and unemployed black and Hispanic males are substantially more likely to be sentenced to prison than employed white males. Thus, our results suggest that offenders with constellations of characteristics other than "young black male" pay a punishment penalty.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)281-306
Number of pages26
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2000
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law


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