Effect of scaling back punishment on racial and ethnic disparities in criminal case outcomes

The punitive shift in sentencing policy in the United States during the latter quarter of the twentieth century disproportionately impacted racial groups with high levels of criminal justice involvement. PISC Internal Advisory Board Member, John MacDonald, PhD, and Stephen Raphael, MD, examine the change in racial and ethnic disparities in criminal court rulings prior to and after the passage of Proposition 47. Proposition 47 was an act passed in 2014, which redefined certain drug and property offenses as misdemeanors in California.

MacDonald and Raphael, found that there was a substantial reduction in the revocations, convictions, jail and prison sentences, and average sentence length in all racial groups convicted after the passage of Proposition 47. The study suggests that policy reforms which scale back the severity of punishment for criminal history and active criminal justice status for less serious felony offenses may help narrow inter‐racial and inter‐ethnic inequalities in criminal court dispositions.

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