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Class, Status, and the Punishment of White-Collar Criminals

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 1990
21 pages
This controversial study of white collar crime sentencing in Federal district courts found that those of higher status were more likely to be imprisoned and, when sentenced to prison, were likely to receive longer prison terms than comparable offenders of lower status.
The analysis is based on a sample of white collar offenders from eight Federal statutory offense categories (securities fraud, antitrust violations, bribery, bank embezzlement, postal and wire fraud, tax fraud, false claims and statements, and credit and lending institution fraud). These offenses were examined in seven Federal judicial districts during 1976, 1977, and 1978. Data for the study came from presentence investigations prepared by Federal probation officers. A strong positive relationship was found between social status and white collar crime sentencing. The effect of status on sentencing was not strongly influenced by class position. When a relational class indicator was taken into account, however, the results demonstrated that those of higher status were more likely to be imprisoned than those of relatively lower status. Although class itself significantly influenced the amount of prison time offenders received, that effect was generally not consistent with a model that places the greatest disadvantage with those lowest down on the social class ladder. In general, the results appear to contradict the widely held view among social scientists and the public that prestige and power provide advantage in virtually every area of American life. Appendixes contain supporting data on the likelihood of imprisonment and sentence length. 44 footnotes and 5 tables (Author abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 1990