Why Do White Male Felons Serve 20% Less Time Than Blacks? Child Porn

Every year, federal judges sentence more than 80,000 criminals. Those punishments are supposed to be fair — and predictable. But seven years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court threw a wrench into the system by ruling that the guidelines that judges use to figure out a prison sentence are only suggestions.

Republicans in Congress say that has led to a lot of bad results. They’re calling for an overhaul of the sentencing system, with tough new mandatory prison terms to bring some order back into the process. Rep. James Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin, brought up the subject at a recent hearing.

“A criminal committing a federal crime should receive similar punishment regardless of whether the crime was committed in Richmond, Va., or Richmond, Calif., and that’s why I am deeply concerned about what’s happening to federal sentencing,” Sensenbrenner said.

–NPR: GOP Seeks Big Changes In Federal Prison Sentences

I suppose I can see the logic of that, except that I am not a big supporter personally of mandatory sentencing period.  But here is where things get really interesting.  Why, you should ask are judges deviating from the guidelines and exactly who is that benefitting unfairly?

A lot of people argue that ever since the Supreme Court weighed in, black men have it a lot worse.

Judge Patti Saris of Massachusetts leads the congressionally created U.S. Sentencing Commission. Saris spoke about the issue at a panel sponsored by the American Constitution Society and the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington earlier this month.

“The average sentence for a black male was 20 percent longer than that for a white male. … And I think what’s important to add there is that no one here is accusing judges of being racist,” Saris said.

So, then, what’s going on?

“It’s not that the black male sentences are going up. It’s that the white male sentences are going down,” Saris said.

Berman, the law professor, says judges think many of the suggested punishments are too tough, especially in the areas of corporate fraud and child pornography, where the guidelines call for people who download images of children to sometimes get upward of 20 years behind bars.

“There’s 2,000 child porn cases, and about 1,200 of them have below-guideline sentences, and they’re all white defendants,” Berman said. “And so now I think the easiest explanation for that entire 20 percent — or if not the entire 20 percent, than at least a big part of that — is, in fact, white child porn downloaders are getting significant leniency.”

“Congress thinks about the world’s worst offender when they’re setting up a mandatory minimum,” Saris said. “They’re thinking about the big bad guy that we’d all agree, ‘Gee, just send that person away.’ But … often, for every horrible, horrible [case] you tell me about, I can think of a situation which is far less severe.”

So let me get this right the ones we are going easy on are exclusively white male consumers of illegal child porn?  But what we really want to do is make damn sure the big bad guy (read: BLACK) should be sent away for a lifetime?

Be interested in your thoughts.  But also I would refer Judge Saris to “The Caging of America”.

image leejasper.blogspot.com

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About Tom Matlack

Tom Matlack is the co-founder of The Good Men Project. He has a 18-year-old daughter and 16- and 7-year-old sons. His wife, Elena, is the love of his life. Follow him on Twitter @TMatlack.

Comments

  1. Tom,

    Three points. First, even within The Caging of America, the author acknowledges that increased prison sentences have resulted in a lower crime rate. The argument is not “Do increased sentences reduce crime?” but rather “Do increased sentences reduce crime in an efficient manner?” It is entirely possible that society was fed up with the crime waves of the 1970s and 1980s and prepared to be inefficient if it meant reducing crime from clearly unacceptable levels. That is a completely rational decision.

    Second, even the Justice Department has begun to admit that sex offenders (which include the consumers of child pornography) have considerably lower rates of recidivism than people who commit other crimes. You can read the statistics here: http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/rsorp94.pdf
    In a regime where the purpose of penalties is to deter bad behavior, a lower recidivism rate arguably indicates success, while a higher rate likely indicates a lack of deterrence.

    Which brings my to the final point: sex offenders are punished for life. Even if the sentence is short, the lifetime spot on the sex offender registry does not go away. Every time someone is convicted of a sex offence they receive a life sentence regardless of how much time they actually spend in prison. It’s not hard to see judges weighing this fact when considering the appropriate length of the prison stay.

    Given these three ideas: jailing violent offenders has demonstrably (if inefficiently) reduced crime, sex offenders are already adequately deterred, and sex offenses already carry a hefty penalty that has nothing to do with time spent behind bars, it is entirely reasonable that you would end up with the result Judge Saris describes.

    In the absence of data that contradicts Berman’s findings, I see no reason to question this conclusion.

    • Tom Matlack says:

      Mike:

      Are you saying that you believe there is no discrimination when it comes to our criminal system? Look at the raw data in terms of inmates racial profile vs. that of the population. Does that mean that blacks are many times more likely to commit a crime or are they more likely to go to jail? If so, why?

  2. John Sctoll says:

    Do you know if there is any data on White women vs Black women AND/OR Women vs Men.

    I would be shocked if the disparity between Women and Men isn’t greater than 20%

  3. I don’t really know how to begin and with what. But surely to start with the difference of sentencing between white and black men downloading child porn is not a good way to start this discussion.

    Maybe best is first of all to compare the number of people in jail in USA with those of other countries, and nowhere else are so many people behind bars than in USA… not in China, not in Iran, not in Russia.

    The next step might be to compare sentencing between women and men in USA, and it is proven, that women are getting away with much shorter sentences than men for the same crimes.

    Next might be maybe to compare sentencing between women and men related to sex-crimes, and then you might start to compare those sentences of women and men according to their race.

    Somewhat like that… and finally, I think, it’s rather complicated, as also the financial background has to be considered. Rich criminals are getting often away with lenient sentences, poor people will be sent behind bars…

    To be a black model does not mean to be poor, a certain model comes to my mind, to be a white man does not mean he is rich – plenty of homeless people are male and white…

    Any idea how to start this discussion?

  4. I’m a bit worried at how this went from “corporate fraud and child porn” to “child porn”?

    Also along with John I’m a bit concerned that in all the talk of discrepancies in sentences it usually stays on the black/white issue. The gaps between men and women is pretty large that if I’m not mistaken black women actually get lighter sentences than white men (or I could be thinking of some other stat).

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