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Why does the problem of sentencing disparity exist?

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Lynnette Wofford eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Sentencing disparity refers to the ways in which people who committed similar crimes may receive quite different sentences. The underlying cause of this is that judges have considerable leeway in sentencing. These disparities can be observed on a large scale, with men and racial minorities more likely to receive longer sentences than whites and women as well as on a case-by-case basis.

The first thing to note is that sentencing guidelines reflect the fact that not all disparities are unfair. For example, in considering sentencing of a mother of young children for non-violent crimes, consideration of the children's welfare might legitimately result in a judge trying to find alternatives to incarceration. Age and health also may be legitimate factors in sentencing as well.

Racial discrimination, however, is uniformly problematic and unjust. It is especially an issue in drug-related crimes, with drug-specific guidelines often leading to greater disparities due to certain drugs being more...

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