Prior Punishments and Cumulative Disadvantage

How Supervision Status Impacts Prison Sentences

Published in: Criminology (2021). doi: 10.1111/1745-9125.12290

Posted on RAND.org on November 10, 2021

by Audrey Hickert, Shawn D. Bushway, David J. Harding, Jeffrey D. Morenoff

Read More

Access further information on this document at Wiley Online Library

This article was published outside of RAND. The full text of the article can be found at the link above.

This article explores one way prior punishments may contribute to cumulative disadvantage: through more severe sentencing of those under criminal justice supervision. We examine the impact of being on supervision in Michigan on receiving a sentence of imprisonment—comparing the magnitude of the impact reflected in the formal sentencing guideline recommendation with deviations made by court actors. We find that the formal penalty for supervision status is modest, whereas court actors place substantially more weight on current parole status than do the guidelines when deciding to sentence a defendant to prison. They do not seem to give current probation status extra weight in a consistent way. As such, parole is more likely to contribute to cumulative disadvantage stemming from prior punishments. This disproportionately impacts Black defendants because of their higher rates of parole—not through disproportionate sentencing conditional on parole status. Findings suggest that attempts to address factors contributing to cumulative disadvantage will need to consider not only formal rules but also how informal discretion contributes to prison sentences.

Research conducted by

This report is part of the RAND Corporation External publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

Our mission to help improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis is enabled through our core values of quality and objectivity and our unwavering commitment to the highest level of integrity and ethical behavior. To help ensure our research and analysis are rigorous, objective, and nonpartisan, we subject our research publications to a robust and exacting quality-assurance process; avoid both the appearance and reality of financial and other conflicts of interest through staff training, project screening, and a policy of mandatory disclosure; and pursue transparency in our research engagements through our commitment to the open publication of our research findings and recommendations, disclosure of the source of funding of published research, and policies to ensure intellectual independence. For more information, visit www.rand.org/about/principles.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.