Does Racial Bias in Sentencing Contribute to Indigenous Overrepresentation in Prison?
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The possibility of racial bias in the criminal justice system is a recurring concern in Australia, as it is in other countries with high rates of minority overrepresentation in prison. In this country, however, very little research has been conducted on racial bias in sentencing. This article reports the results of a logistic regression analysis designed to test for racial bias in the sentencing of Indigenous adult offenders. Our results show that the unadjusted risk of imprisonment is much higher for Indigenous than for non-Indigenous offenders but this effect progressively diminishes as more sentence-relevant factors are taken into account. Indigenous status remains a significant predictor of imprisonment when all measured legal factors have been taken into account but in the median case the difference between Indigenous and non- Indigenous offenders in the risk of imprisonment is less than one percentage point. Sentencing courts were found to place less weight on the prior criminal record of an Indigenous offender than on the prior criminal record of a non-Indigenous offender. The implications of the study for future research and policy are discussed.