NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Disparity In Federal Sentencing For White-Collar Crimes

November 12, 1999

Federal courts in some judicial districts are far more likely to send convicted white-collar criminals to prison than are others, according to the ABA Journal.

A Syracuse University research group, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, looked at all convictions in federal courts for what the Justice Department calls its "white-collar crime program category." The category encompasses a long list of fraud offenses -- including consumer, bank, securities, insurance, health care, and bank embezzlement offenses.

Nationwide, from 1993 to 1997, about one of every two convicted white-collar criminals was sentenced to prison.

  • But in the Western District of Wisconsin, the toughest district in the nation, nearly 85 percent of white-collar criminals were put behind bars.
  • And in the country's other toughest districts -- the District of Rhode Island, the Middle District of Louisiana, the Southern District of Georgia, and the Southern District of Iowa -- at least 70 percent went to prison.
  • Meanwhile just 26 percent of convicted white-collar criminals were sent to prison in the District of New Jersey, and less than 30 percent in the Districts of Arizona, New Jersey, and Montana.

Federal sentencing guidelines were put in effect in 1987 in an attempt to gain uniformity, but prosecutors still have the power to determine what charges to bring, the amount of money at issue in a case, which cases should be left for state authorities to handle and when to credit cooperative defendants with "substantial assistance," which allows judges to reduce an offender's sentence.

Source: Michael Higgins, "Sizing Up Sentences," ABA Journal, November 1999.


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