Will looking black get you a longer jail sentence — even if you’re white?

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Prior research has shown that within a racial category, people with more Afrocentric facial features are presumed more likely to have traits that are stereotypic of Black Americans compared with people with less Afrocentric features. The present study investigated whether this form of featurebased stereotyping might be observed in criminal-sentencing decisions. Analysis of a random sample of inmate records showed that Black and White inmates, given equivalent criminal histories, received roughly equivalent sentences. However, within each race, inmates with more Afrocentric features received harsher sentences than those with less Afrocentric features. These results are consistent with laboratory findings, and they suggest that although racial stereotyping as a function of racial category has been successfully removed from sentencing decisions, racial stereotyping based on the facial features of the offender is a form of bias that is largely overlooked.

Source: “The Influence of Afrocentric Facial Features in Criminal Sentencing” from Psychological Science, Volume 15—Number 10

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