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Posted by on Feb 15, 2013 in Crime, Race | 0 comments

Tell Me Something I Don’t Know: Racial Gap In Men’s Sentencing


Prison sentences of black men were nearly 20% longer than those of white men for similar crimes in recent years, an analysis by the U.S. Sentencing Commission found.

That racial gap has widened since the Supreme Court restored judicial discretion in sentencing in 2005, according to the Sentencing Commission’s findings, which were submitted to Congress last month and released publicly this week.

From the archive:

In a SXSW keynote address Malcolm Gladwell gave back in March 2005, this story:

It seems the great conductors of the world once innocently believed that men were innately better musicians than women and orchestras were male bastions. When one day, through a set of fortuitous circumstances, a male maestro auditioned a woman he thought was a man (she auditioned from behind a screen) he hired her. And when screens were broadly adopted it became clear to everyone that women were every bit as talented musicians as men.

What once was “obvious,” that men were better musicians, is now obviously not.

His story is to illustrate the power and peril of subliminal snap judgments. Says Gladwell [@48:38 The “clip” feature is no longer supported]:

There are certain things about somebody that all of us are really really good at knowing right away, and certain things that we may think we’re good at knowing that we are profoundly not…

Sexual attractiveness, you can do like that…

When we have real experience with something we are good at making profoundly good snap judgments, but in almost every other situation where we do not have that level of expertise our snap judgments are bad. And as a society I feel we are way too cavalier about the products of our snap judgments.

After his talk, during the questions, Gladwell made this observation that I have seen made no place else [@50:29]:

I have become convinced since writing this book that juries should never be able to see the defendants in a jury trial; that that is just crazy. Why? Because the kind of snap judgments a jury is likely to make about a defendant from seeing the defendant are all irrelevant…

Every year someone stands up and points out that there are huge differentials in the conviction rates and sentences for blacks and whites convicted of the same crime. And yet we make that observation and kind of shrug and say, “Well, that’s America.”

We don’t have to live with that. Why don’t we do something about it?

I would bet every dollar I own that if we put the defendant in a backroom and had the defendant answer all questions by email that the gap between black and white defendants, the sentences and conviction rates would shrink.

I absolutely believe that.

Maybe one day soon will hear about the Supreme Court’s role in the re-segregation of America’s schools.

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