Type of Document Dissertation Author Arazan, Christine L. URN etd-11082007-224500 Title Contextual Effects and Punishment Decisions: A Multilevel Analysis Degree Doctor of Philosophy Department Criminology and Criminal Justice, School of Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title Thomas Blomberg Committee Chair C. Aaron McNeece Committee Member William Bales Committee Member Keywords
Date of Defense 2007-11-02 Availability unrestricted AbstractThe theoretical literature on courtroom organizations and focal concerns, in conjunction with social threat perspectives inform this contextual analysis and evaluation of determinate sentencing practices in the state of Florida. Drawing on prior theoretical and empirical research, hierarchical linear and generalized linear models are estimated to assess courtroom and community effects on individual level sentencing outcomes. This research investigates the direct effect of a variety of individual and case-level factors on the in/out prison and sentence length decisions for a sample of offenders (N=382,262) convicted in Florida courts from 1999-2002. The study also examines the direct and conditioning effects of theoretically derived contextual characteristics on the individual punishment decision. These contextual factors include features of the courtroom environment such as the size of the court, caseload pressure, and trial rates, and the broader community including race, ethnicity, concentrated disadvantage, and a variety of community level controls.
The results indicate that location matters when sentenced in Florida. The likelihood of being sentenced to prison and the length of this sentence varies across counties, even after controlling for individual case and offender characteristics and a variety of contextual characteristics. Additionally, the influence of legal and extra-legal factors on the in/out and sentence length decisions varies significantly across counties. Several court characteristics, including the size of the court, caseload pressure and trial rate, and community characteristics, including racial composition, and a variety of controls all assert direct influence on a county’s likelihood of in/out and mean sentence length decisions. The findings also indicate that several of the community and courtroom characteristics condition the effects of defendant and case factors on the sentencing outcomes – though often in the opposite direction than hypothesized.
Overall, this research supports further development and the continued application of organizational theories to sentencing outcomes and questions the persistent reliance upon social threat measures as they are currently conceptualized in the sentencing literature. To advance both the current empirical and theoretical understanding of individual sentencing outcomes, future research must develop three-tiered models that adequately address the embedded nature of the courtroom within the broader community by applying organizational theories. The findings also highlight the need to supplement multilevel sentencing research with case studies in order to advance both the current empirical and theoretical literature.
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