Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2015, $39,997)
The criminal justice system response to sex offenders has virtually separated them from all other types of criminals, suggesting a population that is a premier public policy concern and a perceived threat to public safety (National Council of State Legislatures, 2009; Ragusa-Salerno & Zgoba, 2009). Although a growing body of research has focused on issues surrounding the management of sex offenders in the community, the formal sentencing process for sex offenders is not well understood. As sentencing research has learned that community-level factors such as demographic composition and court context can influence sentencing decisions, the high public profile of sex offenders as public safety threats may lead to additional disparity in sentencing outcomes.
The primary goal of this research is to investigate the factors associated with sentencing disparities among convicted sex offenders and assess the extent to
which community characteristics contribute to this disparity. The proposed research will utilize a large quantitative dataset from the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing, comparing custodial sentences, sentence length, and departures among sex offenders (N - 13,000) and a comparison sample of individuals convicted of violent, non-sexual offenses (N- 25,000). Linking these data to community characteristics, multi-level regression models (i.e., hierarchical logistic regression and linear mixed quantile regression models) will be utilized to examine variation in sentencing decisions.
Findings from the study will be used to inform the application of sentencing guidelines to convicted sex offenders and further knowledge regarding the effects of both legal and extra-legal factors on judicial discretion concerning this group.
This project contains a research and/or development component, as defined in applicable law.