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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Racism and sexism influences on sentencing decisions Udala, Megan Rose


There is a large body of research pertaining to sentencing decisions and the factors that affect it. This thesis investigates three factors: (a) race of the perpetrator (b) sex of the perpetrator and (c) the victim’s relationship to the perpetrator. In Canada, Aboriginal offenders comprise 20% of the federal prison population and only 3% of the general population (Statistics Canada, 2012). Further, research suggests a sex difference in criminal sentencing, with males being convicted more often and for longer than their female counterparts (Auerhahn, 2007; Rodriguez, Curry, & Lee, 2006). In addition, the relationship of the victim to the perpetrator may also influence sentence length. For example, a woman in Canada who murders a non-relative child may receive a first-degree murder charge and a sentence of life in prison; however, if she murders her own child she may receive a lesser charge of infanticide and only five years in prison (R.S., c. C-34, s. 216). In this study, participants were randomly assigned to one of eight conditions where the perpetrator’s race, sex, and relationship to the victim were manipulated. Participants were instructed to indicate a perceived seriousness rating of the crime and to allocate a sentencing decision. The results of this study suggested female First Nations perpetrators received a lower perceived seriousness rating for their crime if they murdered their own child, paralleling the leniency found with the Canadian infanticide law. The opposite was found for male First Nations perpetrators. Male First Nation perpetrators received a higher perceived seriousness rating for their crime if they murdered their own child. In addition, results for sentencing length showed females received a significantly shorter sentence length. Specifically, I found that a female First Nations perpetrator who murders her own child was treated more leniently than all other conditions for both seriousness ratings and sentence lengths. The findings of this study elucidate the influential bias of race, sex, and victim relationship in sentencing decisions and contribute to understanding how the Canadian criminal justice system may be more equitable.

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