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Unjustified Sentence Disparity: A Case Study of the Leveling Effect of Parole

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Title: Unjustified Sentence Disparity: A Case Study of the Leveling Effect of Parole
Author: Weninger, Robert A.
Abstract: This article reports the results of a study of whether parole operates to reduce sentence disparity in a system where sentencing is indeterminate, and where the parole release decision is not regulated by the use of explicit decision-making guidelines. The investigation is based on observation of the behavior of participants in the parole process in Texas, interviews with parole officials, and a statistical analysis of a random sample of cases involving 1183 adult offenders released on parole in that state in 1981. The question of disparity reduction is examined from the perspective of the interplay between the parole board and the judiciary. This study suggests that parole can mitigate disparity even in a large and diverse state where sentencing and parole authorities exercise unregulated discretion. It makes two tentative findings. First, there appears to be greater disparity in sentences imposed by judges on offenders with more serious offenses and extensive criminal histories than on offenders with less serious offenses and prior records. Second, the worse the offense and prior record, the more likely it is that parole will reduce sentence disparity. Although these findings suggest that administrative release decisions can enhance equity in sentencing, the study concludes that in Texas, parole's capacity to mitigate sentence disparity has been insufficiently used, and that a system of structured discretion for parole officials would be preferable to one that is largely unguided.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10601/196
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Date: 1985

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