This study examined whether felony sentences were influenced by ecological factors (i.e., poor neighborhoods), separately or in conjunction with a defendant’s race.
Study findings indicate that convicted felons from more disadvantaged neighborhoods were more likely to receive suspended prison sentences, whereas a defendant’s race was unrelated to imprisonment. In contrast, neighborhood disadvantage was unrelated to sentence length for imprisoned defendants, whereas African-Americans received significantly shorter terms relative to Whites. The overrepresentation of African-American men in State prisons across the United States, particularly those from poor neighborhoods, has generated discussion about the impact of minority incarceration rates on economic well-being and social cohesion in predominantly African-American communities. To shed light on felony sentences, both legal and extralegal effects on the odds of imprisonment and the length of imprisonment were modeled for 2,954 defendants convicted on felony charges from 1,021 census tracts in Ohio, controlling for jurisdiction differences in defendant pools and disposition rates. The study examined whether a convicted felon received a non-suspended prison sentence and the length of incarceration for convicted felons sent to prison. The study hypotheses focused on the main effects of a defendant’s race on sentencing, the main effects of neighborhood socioeconomic disadvantage on sentencing, and the interaction effects between a defendant’s race and neighborhood disadvantage; whether socioeconomic disadvantage conditioned the effect of a defendant’s race on sentence severity. Tables, notes, and references