“Nickel and Dimed” for Drug Crime: Unpacking the Process of Cumulative Racial Inequality

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We apply a cumulative disadvantage framework to examine racial inequality in the criminal justice system for drug defendants. Using State Court Processing Statistics data for the period 1990–2006 (N = 34,814), we estimate probit, multinomial probit, and OLS models to examine racial disparities in pretrial detention, adjudication, sentence type, and sentence length. We find that disparities in sentencing are not considerably large, particularly in sentence length. Larger disparities occur earlier in the process, in more discretionary stages, and through indirect pathways. In a criminal justice system that “nickel and dimes” racial inequality, examining this inequality should occur through multiple stages in the court process, rather than at a single stage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalSociological Quarterly
StateAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2018



  • courts
  • Cumulative disadvantage
  • racial disparities
  • sentencing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science

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