Date of Award

Spring 6-2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Criminal Justice



First Advisor or Mentor

William C. Heffernan

Second Reader

Frank S. Pezzella


The Black-White sentencing gap, as defined by the differences between the average sentences received by Black defendants and those by White defendants, is an under- research area. In the federal court, after United States v. Booker, this gap has decreased from 25 months in 2008-2010 to 0 in 2016-2107. By using Oaxaca decomposition, I find that the differences in criminal history, offense levels, and pretrial detention status between Black and White defendants are the main source of the gap. The unexplained portion of the gap, resulting from judges finding Black defendants more culpable to their offenses and thus imposing harsher sentences, is relatively small, though significant. I further examine the changes in the gap with the Wellington extension and find that the decrease is largely driven by the changes in the Black and White defendants’ offense levels and the rate of receiving charges carrying mandatory minimum sentences. Judges’treatment of Black defendants has changed very little over time.


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