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Racial Disparities in Jail and Prison Sentences for Youth Tried as Adults in Florida

Posted in Research & Policy Friday, 28 April 2017

By Jeree Thomas, Policy Director

This month, the Journal of Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice featured a new paper by Peter Lehmann, Ted Chiricos, and William Bales called, Sentencing Transferred Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Court: The Direct and Interactive Effects of Race and Ethnicity.   The research analyzes data from over 30,000 youth defendants tried as adults in Florida for felony offenses from 1995 to 2006.  There are three guiding questions of the research.  First, is there a statistically significant difference between the likelihood of a Black or Hispanic youth receiving a jail or prison sentence instead of community supervision than that of their White peers?  Second, do Black and Hispanic youth receive lengthier prison and jail sentences than their White peers?  Finally, what impact does age and sex in addition to race have on the likelihood of receiving a prison sentence, and on the length of that sentence?

The researchers found the following:

  • Black youth were 2.349 times more likely to receive a jail sentence instead of community supervision than their White peers.
  • Hispanic youth were 1.384 times more likely to receive a jail sentence instead of community supervision than their White peers.
  • Black youth were 1.731 times more likely to receive a prison sentence instead of community supervision than their White peers.
  • There was not a statistically significant effect of Hispanic ethnicity on the likelihood of a youth receiving a prison sentence.
  • Black youth receive prison sentences that are 7.8% longer than their White peers.  Being Hispanic was not associated with a statistically significant difference in the length of the youth’s prison sentence compared to their White peers.
  • Black males and younger females (ages 8-15) are the most likely to receive a sentence to jail than community supervision. 
  • “White males ages 16-17, Black females ages 16-17, and White females ages 16-17 received significantly shorter prison sentences than younger Black males [(ages 8-15)].


The overarching conclusion of the article was that being a Black male of any age was associated with more punitive outcomes compared to other groups.  Once transferred, Black male youth were more likely to receive a jail or prison sentence rather than community supervision and more likely to receive a longer jail and prison sentence than their peers.  This research highlights the need to continue to address the root causes of disproportionate minority contact and racial and ethnic disparities not only for youth in the juvenile system, but also for youth transferred to the adult system. 

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