In Texas and across the United States, Black men can often receive longer sentences than white men, even when both are convicted of the same crime. A study by the U.S. Sentencing Commission has shown that Black men serve sentences that average 19.1 percent longer than white men convicted of similar crimes. The study reviewed sentencing and prison data from 2012 or 2016.
The researchers for the commission found that the disparity in criminal sentencing is not explained by factors such as a criminal history or violence in the past. The commission is an independent, bipartisan agency that falls under the U.S. federal judiciary. In fact, when taking past violence into account, the commission found an even more significant disparity; Black men received sentences 20.4 percent longer on average in these cases, analyzed using 2016 data.
The report follows up on an earlier study produced in 2012 after a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision, United States v. Booker. The Booker case allowed judges to add enhancements to an offender’s sentence based on their own judgment, rather than on guidelines from the sentencing commission. The study seeks to look at how racial bias, including unconscious bias, could affect the sentencing process.
Another organization, the Sentencing Project, said that the U.S. holds the most prisoners in the world; in 2015, 2.2 million people were imprisoned. Black men are six times more likely than white men to be in prison, while Latino men are 2.3 times more likely than white men to be jailed.
In this context, it is particularly important for Black men – and defendants of any gender or race – to have representation when accused of a crime. A criminal defense attorney may be able to vigorously advocate on behalf of the client. Furthermore, having a lawyer may have a major impact on the outcome of a case, including potential plea negotiations and sentencing decisions.