Community Context and Sentencing Decisions in 39 Counties in the United States, 1998 (ICPSR 3923)
Principal Investigator(s): Fearn, Noelle E., Washington State University
This study aimed to understand the extent to which punishment is influenced by the larger social context in which it occurs by examining both the main and conditioning influence of community context on individual sentences. The primary research questions for this study were (1) Does community context affect sentencing outcomes for criminal defendants net of the influence of defendant and case characteristics? and (2) Does community context condition the influences of defendant age, race, and sex on sentencing outcomes? Data from the 1998 State Court Processing Statistics (SCPS) were merged with a unique county-level dataset that provided information on the characteristics of the counties in which defendants were adjudicated. County-level data included unemployment, crime rates, sex ratio, age structure, religious group affiliation, and political orientation.
These data are freely available.
Fearn, Noelle E. COMMUNITY CONTEXT AND SENTENCING DECISIONS IN 39 COUNTIES IN THE UNITED STATES, 1998. ICPSR version. St. Louis, MO: University of Missouri-St. Louis [producer], 2003. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2004. http://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR03923.v1
Persistent URL: http://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR03923.v1
This study was funded by:
- United States Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. National Institute of Justice (2002-IJ-CX-0003)
Scope of Study
Subject Terms: case processing, communities, counties, court cases, defendants, felons, sentencing, state courts
Smallest Geographic Unit: counties
Geographic Coverage: United States
Date of Collection:
Unit of Observation: counties
Universe: Thirty-nine counties in the United States for which 1998 State Court Processing Data were available.
Data Types: administrative records data
Data Collection Notes:
(1) This study was a multi-level analysis combining county-level and individual-level data. This data collection only contains the county-level data used in this study. The individual-level data are available as STATE COURT PROCESSING STATISTICS, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1996, AND 1998: FELONY DEFENDANTS IN LARGE URBAN COUNTIES (ICPSR 2038). The Final Report for this study details how cases were selected from ICPSR 2038 and how variables were created for the analyses. (2) The user guide and codebook are provided by ICPSR as Portable Document Format (PDF) files. The PDF file format was developed by Adobe Systems Incorporated and can be accessed using PDF reader software, such as the Adobe Acrobat Reader. Information on how to obtain a copy of the Acrobat Reader is provided on the ICPSR Web site.
Study Purpose: This study aimed to understand the extent to which punishment is influenced by the larger social context in which it occurs by examining both the main and conditioning influence of community context on individual sentences. By examining community variation in criminal sentences, this study contributed to the knowledge of how formal social control (i.e., the criminal justice system) operates and is embedded within and shaped by local social context. The primary research questions for this study were (1) Does community context affect sentencing outcomes for criminal defendants net of the influence of defendant and case characteristics? (2) Does community context condition the influences of defendant age, race, and sex on sentencing outcomes?
Study Design: This study examined the influence of community context on several individual-level sentencing outcomes using data from the 1998 State Court Processing Statistics (SCPS) and a unique county-level dataset that provided information on the characteristics of counties in which the defendants were adjudicated. The SCPS provided detailed legal and extralegal data on felony defendants and their cases from 39 large urban counties across 17 states. These data were merged with a county-level dataset created specifically for this project. The county-level data provided detailed information on key community characteristics, such as the unemployment rate, crime rates, region, racial composition, sex ratio, age structure, political orientation, religious affiliation, and sentencing structures. County-level indicators of unemployment rates, racial composition, age structure, sex ratio, and geographic location were collected from the County and City Data Books (2000) and the Census Bureau Summary Tape Files (2000). County-level crime rates were gathered from the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) for the year preceding the felony case filings (1997). Information on religious group affiliation at the county-level was obtained from the United States Census of Churches (1997). County-level indicators of political orientation were collected from the American National Election Study (1996). Finally, indicators of type of sentencing structure and guidelines at the county-level were gathered from the United States Department of Justice National Survey of State Sentencing Structures (1998). The merged data were used to assess the main and conditioning effects of several community conditions on the nature and severity of sentences received by individual defendants. Sentencing outcomes were measured by (1) the incarceration decision, (2) the nature of the specific sentence, and (3) the length of confinement term received. Since the SCPS data used for this study were obtained from STATE COURT PROCESSING STATISTICS, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1996, AND 1998: FELONY DEFENDANTS IN LARGE URBAN COUNTIES (ICPSR 2038), this data collection only contains the county-level data that were collected to measure community characteristics.
Sample: The counties included in this data collection were those that had data in the 1998 State Court Processing Statistics (SCPS) collection. The SCPS employs a two-stage sampling strategy with 40 of the 75 most populous counties in the United States selected at the first stage and then a systematic sample of felony filings within each county selected at the second stage. In 1998 only 39 counties were selected because of the large number of felony filings that year. The second stage of sampling is designed to represent all defendants for whom felony cases were filed with the court during the month of May.
The county-level data in this collection were compiled from the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Reports (1997), the Census of Churches (1997), County and City Data Books (2000), Census Bureau Summary Tape Files (2000), the American National Election Study (1996), and the United States Department of Justice National Survey of State Sentencing Structures (1998).
Description of Variables: Variables include state and county FIPS codes, percent unemployed, number of males per females, percent 65 years and older, violent crimes per 100,000 residents, sentencing structure, whether the county was located in the South, percent that voted Republican in the 1992 presidential election, percent Protestant, and percent Black.
Response Rates: Not applicable.
Presence of Common Scales: None.
Extent of Processing: ICPSR data undergo a confidentiality review and are altered when necessary to limit the risk of disclosure. ICPSR also routinely creates ready-to-go data files along with setups in the major statistical software formats as well as standard codebooks to accompany the data. In addition to these procedures, ICPSR performed the following processing steps for this data collection:
- Checked for undocumented or out-of-range codes.
Original ICPSR Release: 2004-05-20
- 2005-11-04 On 2005-03-14 new files were added to one or more datasets. These files included additional setup files as well as one or more of the following: SAS program, SAS transport, SPSS portable, and Stata system files. The metadata record was revised 2005-11-04 to reflect these additions.
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