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Sentencing disparity is defined as "a form of unequal treatment that is often of unexplained cause and is at least incongruous, unfair and disadvantaging in consequence". It is important[according to whom?] to distinguish disparity from differences that arise due to legitimate use of discretion in the application of the law and those differences that arise due to discrimination or other, unexplained, causes unrelated to the issues found in the specific criminal case. There is evidence that some U.S. federal judges give much longer prison sentences for similar offenses than other judges do.
This is a major problem because two judges could be faced with a similar case and one could order a very harsh sentence while another would give a much lesser sentence. A 2006 study by Crow and Bales gives evidence of sentencing disparity. The Florida Department of Corrections gave statistics of those prisoners who received probation or community control in the period 1990–1999. Prisoners were categorized as Blacks and Hispanics or Whites/Non-Hispanics. The study found that the Blacks and Hispanics received more intense and harsher penalties than the White/Non-Hispanic group.
A 2001 University of Georgia study found substantial disparity in criminal sentencing men and women received "after controlling for extensive criminological, demographic, and socioeconomic variables". The study found that "blacks and males are... less likely to get no prison term when that option is available; less likely to receive downward departures [from the guidelines]; and more likely to receive upward adjustments and, conditioned on having a downward departure, receive smaller reductions than whites and females".
In 2012 Sonja B. Starr from University of Michigan Law School found that "men receive 63% longer sentences on average than women do," and "[w]omen are…twice as likely to avoid incarceration if convicted."  Instances wherein women or cases have been perceived as upholding a gender disparity in sentencing have at times been labelled with derogatory terms such as pussy pass
- Alfred Blumstein, et al. Research on Sentencing: The Search for Reform, Volume II (1983)
- Secret, Mosi (5 March 2012). "Wide Sentencing Disparity Found Among U.S. Judges". New York Times. Retrieved 24 April 2016.
- David B. Mustard (2001). "Racial, Ethnic, and Gender Disparities in Sentencing: Evidence from the U.S. Federal Courts" (PDF). Journal of Law and Economics.
- "Study finds large gender disparities in federal criminal cases". www.law.umich.edu. Retrieved 2016-12-06.
- Starr, Sonja B. (2012-08-29). "Estimating Gender Disparities in Federal Criminal Cases". Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network.
- Gotell, Lise, and Emily Dutton. "Sexual Violence in the ‘Manosphere’: Antifeminist Men’s Rights Discourses on Rape." International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy 5.2 (2016): 65-80.
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- Crow, M.S., Bales, W. (2006). Sentencing guidelines and focal concerns: The effect of sentencing policy as a practical constraining on sentencing decisions. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 30(2)
- Rhodes, W.M., et al. (2016). Federal sentencing disparity: 2005-2012. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics.