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Does Court Workforce Racial Diversity Yield Racial Justice?: Some Evidence from Federal Court Contexts

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 2008
55 pages
By combining court organizational, contextual, and sentencing data for 90 Federal districts, this study used hierarchical linear models in analyzing how variable levels of racial diversity among judges and prosecutors ("courtroom workgroup") were linked to district-level differences in sentencing severity by the race of the offender.
The study found that Federal districts with greater Black representation among the courtroom workgroups had a greater likelihood for incarceration sentences for all offenders; however, Black and White offenders had an equal likelihood of being incarcerated, compared to districts with less Black representation in the courtroom workgroup. Convicted Black offenders were found to be somewhat disadvantaged in districts that lacked Black representation in the courtroom workgroup, as they faced a relatively greater statistical likelihood of incarceration than White offenders in these districts compared with districts with more Black representation among judges and prosecutors. The findings suggest that racial justice in sentencing may be moderately advanced by achieving racial diversity in Federal court workgroups. The findings also indicate the value of considering racial diversity in a court workgroup for a district in examining racial factors in sentencing, rather than only characteristics of individual personnel. Individual defendant case decisions were obtained through the Monitoring Federal Criminal Sentencing data maintained by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which includes information on all Federal cases sentenced between October 1, 2000, and September 30, 2002. Cases were screened to include only the sentences for Black and White defendants (n=52,247). Information on the social context, court context, and racial diversity of the courtroom workgroup were obtained for 90 Federal judicial districts from the 2000 census, the 2000 Uniform Crime Reports, and the Federal Court Management Statistics and Business of the United States Court 2000-2001. 5 tables and a 107-item bibliography

Date Published: January 1, 2008