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Examining the Treatment of Native American Defendants in United States Federal Courts

Award Information

Award #
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2015, $43,000)

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) Graduate Research Fellowship Program
provides awards to accredited universities for doctoral student research that uses criminal justice data or statistical series and focuses on crime, violence, and other criminal justice-related topics.

BJS invests in doctoral education by supporting universities that sponsor students who demonstrate the potential to complete doctoral degree programs successfully in disciplines relevant to the mission of BJS, and who are in the final stages of graduate study.

The ultimate goal of the program is to increase the pool of researchers using criminal justice statistical data generated by BJS, thereby contributing solutions that better prevent and control crime and help ensure the fair and impartial administration of criminal justice in the United States.

Under this award, BJS is funding the dissertation research proposed by Arizona State University on behalf of Erica Redner-Vera entitled, "Examining the Treatment of Native American Defendants in United States Federal Courts."

Racial and ethnic disparity in federal sentencing is an important concern to scholars and policy makers. Literature suggests that Blacks and Hispanics are sentenced more harshly than similarly situated White offenders. These findings are troubling since defendants of color who are meted out tougher punishments face substantial social and economic difficulties thereafter, and such findings suggest that minorities are treated unfairly by the justice system. While Black- Hispanic-White disparities are identified, less is known about whether disparities extend to other minority groups. This research gap indicates that little can be gleaned about the treatment of these neglected groups.

The proposed research will examine the treatment of Native American defendants. The central research question is whether Native American defendants are disproportionately meted out harsher punishments in federal courts.

Specifically, the research will examine:

1) cumulative disadvantage for Native American defendants at multiple decision points,

2) Native American-White disadvantage across time, and

3) the effect of social context on Native American-White disadvantage.

The study will utilize the focal concerns and minority threat perspectives to address disparate sentencing practices and their negative implications for Native Americans. It is hypothesized that Native American defendants will receive harsher outcomes at multiple decision points, thus suffering from cumulative disadvantage; this disadvantage is likely to be consistent over time and to be affected by social context.

The data to be used to answer these questions are from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, Bureau of Prisons, Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, U.S. Marshall Service, the U.S. Sentencing Commission, and the U.S. Census. These data are suitable to answer my questions for several reasons. First, the data include rich information that is relevant to understanding how Native Americans are treated in federal courts (e.g., demographic, offense severity, criminal history). Second, the data contain multiple decision points and are longitudinal (18 years), permitting observation of changes to sentencing practices across time. Third, the data include a large number of Native American defendants allowing for meaningful findings related to Native Americans. The proposed questions will be answered using the following strategies: logistic regression, ordinary least-squares regression, and multilevel modeling.

Note: This project contains a research and/or development component, as defined in applicable law.


Date Created: September 30, 2015