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Disparity and Discrimination Essay Sample

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Disparity and Discrimination Essay Sample

Throughout the United States discrimination has deeply threaded itself in the way people socialize toward different ethnical backgrounds. According to criminal justice system, disparity is referred to a numerous amount of arrests and sentencing for certain ethnic groups of people. It predominantly refers to racial and ethnic disparity. Although racial disparity has not always been intentional discrimination, it has definitively been verified. This essay will compare and contrast discrimination and disparity as they relate to our criminal justice system. Disparity and discrimination are at times used interchangeably; however, these terms do not have the same meaning. Disparity is a difference in treatment or outcome that does not necessarily result from intentional bias or prejudice. Discrimination, on the other hand, is differential treatment of individuals based on irrelevant criteria, such as race, gender, or social class (Kathleen Daly and Michael Tonry 1997, p. 129).

When the sentencing process is applied, disparity occurs when two people have similar offences yet each are sentenced differently or when different offenders receive the same sentence. It exists when two offenders who have identical criminal histories and each committed and are convicted of the same crime; however, the judge imposes a different sentence for each offender or when a judge imposes the same sentence for two offenders whose prior crimes and criminal records are completely different from each others. In contrast, discrimination sentencing exists when characteristics that are irrelevant to the defendant, such as skin color, or gender have an affect on the sentence that was imposed after all legal variables were taken into consideration. It exists when a Hispanic or an African American offender receive a much harsher sentence than that of a white offender or when an offender that is poor receives a more punitive sentence than a wealthy offender. An example of discrimination sentencing; suppose there are two 20- year- old men who have been convicted for burglary. Each of these men has one prior conviction for motor vehicle theft; neither of these men has served time in prison nor in jail.

When it is time for them to appear before the same judge for their sentencing, A white male who works part time at McDonald’s receives a sentence of 6 months in jail. While a African American male who happens to be unemployed receives a sentence of 2 years in prison. Judges should be bound to follow the guidelines of the law when it comes to sentencing offenders. They should not be free to hand out sentences as they see fit. Judges who use discrimination while sentencing, leads to lawlessness sentencing. When defining sentencing disparity there are three types; Interjurisdictional; judges in different jurisdictions sentence similarly situated offenders differently. Intrajurisdictional; judges in the same jurisdiction sentence similarly situated offenders differently and Intrajudge; an individual judge makes inconsistent sentencing decisions (Kathleen Daly and Michael Tonry 1997, p. 129). The reasons are complicated as to why one judge in a certain jurisdiction may impose a different sentence to similar offenders.

These reasons may be based on a judge’s belief and these beliefs can have an impact on the sentencing that is imposed. Sentencing discrimination can come in a number of forms, like disparity. Pure justice; no discrimination takes place. Institutional discrimination; discrimination that results from evenhanded application of policies or procedures. Contextual discrimination; discrimination that occurs in some contexts or under some circumstances. Individual acts of discrimination; discriminatory decisions made by a few individuals within the system, and systematic discrimination; discrimination at all stages, in all places, and during all time periods (Kathleen Daly and Michael Tonry 1997, p. 129). Evidently, discrimination is a part of this society.

This was illustrated by Payne (2000): ‘It is impossible even to begin to think about people without immediately encountering ‘social divisions’. We automatically perceive other human beings as being male or female, black or white, older or younger, richer or poorer, sick or well, or friend or foe. In forming a perception of them, we place them in pigeon-holes, adapting our behavior and attitudes to them in terms of the slots into which we have placed them ( Payne, 2000). We as humans have the tendency to make assumptions and judge others based on age, ethnicity and other characteristics which can ultimately lead to treating people differently weather it is done consciously or not.


Illingworth, P. (2009). Combating discrimination. In A model for prison change (pp. 20-28). Kathleen Daly and Michael Tonry (1997). Sentencing disparity and discrimination. In Gender Race and Sentencing (p. 129). United States: Author. Payne G (Ed) (2000) Social Divisions. Basingstoke: Macmillan.

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