Stereotypes are extremely prevalent in our society, as unfortunate as that may sound. Many people will make quick, snap judgments about people based on their affiliation with a particular race, gender, nationality, social status, appearance – and even level of education.

It seems that no faction of society is immune to stereotyping. This rings especially true within the criminal justice system. Defense attorneys witness this every day, particularly in how our clients are treated in the courtroom. The prison sentencing people receive for indictable offenses is one example of stereotyping and bias.

For the past few decades, researchers have been attempting to understand what factors, aside from the criminal charges themselves, influence prison sentencing. For example, a 2015 study in Crime and Delinquency suggests that offenders who are Asian receive more lenient prison sentences than white, black and Hispanic offenders. Another 2015 study in the Journal for Criminal Justice found that women are less likely than men to be detained before trial and are 58% less likely to receive a prison sentence. 

Now researchers are noticing a correlation between prison sentencing and education level.  “Sentencing Outcomes in U.S. District Courts: Can Offenders’Educational Attainment Guard Against Prevalent Criminal Stereotypes?,” a 2017 report in Crime and Delinquency, found that high school graduates are 10 percent less likely to be sent to prison than offenders who did not finish high school. Graduates who are sent to prison also tend to receive lighter sentences than offenders without a diploma.

These findings certainly suggest a high level of bias and stereotyping that should be addressed. It has encouraged many groups, including The American Bar Association, to lobby for prison sentencing reform.