Type of Document Dissertation Author Wang, Xia Author's Email Address firstname.lastname@example.org URN etd-04122008-030230 Title Criminal Justice Sentencing in Context: The Effect of Social Environment on Courtroom Decision-Making Degree Doctor of Philosophy Department Criminology and Criminal Justice, School of Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title Daniel P. Mears Committee Chair Carter Hay Committee Member Michael D. Reisig Committee Member Xufeng Niu Committee Member Keywords
- Minority Thtreat
- Social Context
- Race and Ethnicity
Date of Defense 2008-04-01 Availability unrestricted AbstractThis dissertation contributes to an emerging literature in criminology on sentencing and contextual effects, first by unpacking the direct and conditioning effects of social context on sentencing decisions, and then by examining whether changes in social context, as well as state-level social context, influence sentencing. To this end, I draw on the minority threat perspective to develop hypotheses about contextual effects. Specifically, I use the minority threat perspective to develop hypotheses about how different dimensions of county-level minority threat affect courtroom decision-making differently, as well as interactively with individual offenders’ race and ethnicity. I also use this perspective to develop hypotheses about the ways in which changes in social context may affect sentencing decisions. In theorizing how changes may affect sentencing severity, I also draw on the social threat perspective. Finally, I examine state-level social context and its effect, directly and interactively with county-level social context and individual offenders’ race and ethnicity, on sentencing severity.
Data for this dissertation come from the State Court Processing Statistics for 1998, 2000, and 2002, which include 17,440 convicted felons in 60 urban counties across 23 states. The data are unique in that they include cases from a range of counties and states, offer extensive information on the processing of defendants, provide important demographic information—especially race and ethnicity—and information about defendants’ previous contact with the criminal justice system. In addition, because the counties sampled represent courts that process a large proportion of arrestees in the U.S., findings from this dissertation should have a greater generalizability than prior studies that only focus on one state.
To develop various measures of social context at county and state levels, I extract data from the U.S. Census of Bureau, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and the National Center for State Courts. Given the nature of the research questions and data, I use multilevel modeling techniques to test the hypotheses. Ultimately, the goal of this dissertation is to contribute to criminological and criminal justice research, as well as to policy discussions, by examining whether the influence of social context on criminal sentencing is more nuanced than what prior research has established and by advancing the development of theoretical accounts of sentencing.
The findings highlight the significance of social context—racial and ethnic context in particular—and its nuanced effect on sentencing severity. I conclude this dissertation by discussing the implications of the findings for theory, research, and policy. I also discuss future lines of research that I intend to pursue.
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