NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Sentencing Achieves Some Goals, But Varies By Victim And Offender

June 1, 2000

The economic goal of a rational, efficient justice system should be to reduce the incidence of crime by deterring future would-be criminals and incapacitating those most likely to commit crimes again. In that sense, an analysis of U.S. homicide cases does indicate that sentencing tends to be efficient. That is one conclusion reached in a new National Bureau of Economic Research study conducted by Edward L. Glaeser and Bruce Sacerdote.

But the researchers also found that the characteristics of offenders -- and especially of victims -- make a big difference in sentences handed down.

  • Males receive stiffer sentences than females -- and black males fare worse than white males.
  • But it must also be taken into account that black males in the system tend to have longer criminal records than whites.
  • Far more severe sentences are meted out when a murder victim is white or a female than when the victim is black or a male.
  • Even in vehicular homicide cases -- where the victim is usually random -- female victims tend to elicit significantly greater punishment than male victims.

Source: Edward Glaeser and Bruce Sacerdote, "The Determinants of Punishment: Deterrence, Incapacitation and Vengeance," Working Paper No. W7676, April 2000, National Bureau of Economic Research; Gene Koretz, "U.S. Justice: Not Entirely Blind," Business Week, June 5, 2000.


Browse more articles on Government Issues