Skip navigation

A Rising Share Hispanics and Federal Crime Pew Hispanic Center 2009

Download original document:
Brief thumbnail
This text is machine-read, and may contain errors. Check the original document to verify accuracy.
Report

February 18, 2009

A Rising Share:
Hispanics and Federal Crime

Mark Hugo Lopez
Associate Director
Pew Hispanic Center

Michael T. Light
Doctoral Student
Department of Sociology
& Crime, Law and Justice
Pennsylvania State University

The Pew Hispanic Center is a nonpartisan research organization that seeks to improve public understanding
of the diverse Hispanic population in the United States and to chronicle Latinos' growing impact on the nation.
It does not take positions on policy issues. The center is part of the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan "fact
tank" based in Washington, D.C., and it is funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, a Philadelphia-based public
charity. All of the Center’s reports are available at www.pewhispanic.org. The staff of the Center is:
Paul Taylor, Director
Rakesh Kochhar, Associate Director for Research
Richard Fry, Senior Research Associate
Gretchen Livingston, Senior Researcher
Daniel Dockterman, Research Assistant

Mark Hugo Lopez, Associate Director
Jeffrey S. Passel, Senior Demographer
Ana Gonzalez-Barrera, Senior Analyst
Mary Seaborn, Administrative Manager

1615 L Street, NW, Suite 700 • Washington, DC 20036-5610 • Phone: 202-419-3600 • Fax: 202-419-3608 • www.pewhispanic.org

Copyright © 2009

A Rising Share: Hispanics and Federal Crime

i

Executive Summary
Sharp growth in illegal immigration and increased enforcement of immigration
laws have dramatically altered the ethnic composition of offenders sentenced in
federal courts. In 2007, Latinos accounted for 40% of all sentenced federal
offenders—more than triple their share (13%) of the total U.S. adult population.
The share of all sentenced offenders who were Latino in 2007 was up from 24%
in 1991, according to an analysis of data from the United States Sentencing
Commission (USSC) by the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research
Center.
Between 1991 and 2007, enforcement of
federal immigration laws became a growing
priority in response to undocumented
immigration. 1 By 2007, immigration
offenses represented nearly one-quarter
(24%) of all federal convictions, up from
just 7% in 1991. Among those sentenced for
immigration offenses in 2007, 80% were
Hispanic.
This heightened focus on immigration
enforcement has also changed the
citizenship profile of federal offenders. In
2007, Latinos without U.S. citizenship
represented 29% of all federal offenders.
Among all Latino offenders, some 72%
were not U.S. citizens, up from 61% in
1991. By contrast, a much smaller share of
white offenders (8%) and black offenders
(6%) who were sentenced in federal courts

1

The number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. increased from 3.9 million in 1992 (Passel, 2005) to 11.9 million in
2008 (Passel and Cohn, 2008). Published reports indicate an increasing level of immigration enforcement activity since
the mid-1990s. According to the USSC, implementation of Operation Gatekeeper by the Immigration and Naturalization
Service (INS) in 1995 resulted in more immigration cases entering federal courts (USSC, 2004). According to a report
from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, the number of immigration
prosecutions filed by federal prosecutors more than quadrupled since 2001. And according to the Migration Policy
Institute, Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Fugitive Operations Teams arrested nearly 34,000 immigrants in
fiscal 2008 as part of its National Fugitive Operations Program. This was a nearly 17-fold increase since fiscal 2003
(Mendelson, Strom and Wishnie, 2009).

Pew Hispanic Center

February 18, 2009

A Rising Share: Hispanics and Federal Crime

ii

in 2007 were not U.S. citizens. 2
The United States

The total number of offenders sentenced in
Sentencing Commission
federal courts more than doubled from
The United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) was
1991 to 2007. During this period, the
established in 1984 to create sentencing guidelines for
number of sentenced offenders who were
the federal courts as part of the Sentencing Reform Act.
One of its missions is to collect data on all federal
Hispanic nearly quadrupled and accounted
criminal cases sentenced under the Federal Sentencing
for more than half (54%) of the growth in
Guidelines (USSC, 2007a). The data files available from
the total number of sentenced offenders.
the USSC include all cases that resulted in a sentence
from fiscal 1991 through fiscal 2007.
One reason all of these figures have risen
so sharply is that immigration offenses,
unlike most other criminal offenses, are exclusively under the jurisdiction of
federal rather than state or local courts.
In 1991, three times as many Hispanics were sentenced in federal courts for drug
crimes (60%) as for immigration crimes (20%). By 2007, that pattern had
reversed; among Hispanic offenders sentenced in federal courts, 48% were
sentenced for an immigration offense and 37% for a drug offense.
Among sentenced immigration offenders, most were convicted of unlawfully
entering or remaining in the U.S. Fully 75% of Latino offenders sentenced for
immigration crimes in 2007 were convicted of entering the U.S. unlawfully or
residing in the country without authorization, and 19% were sentenced for
smuggling, transporting or harboring an unlawful alien. The convictions broke
down largely along citizenship lines. Among sentenced non-citizen Latino
immigration offenders, more than eight-in-ten (81%) were convicted of entering
unlawfully or residing in the U.S. without authorization. In contrast, more than
nine-in-ten (91%) U.S. citizen Latino immigration offenders were convicted of
smuggling, transporting or harboring an unlawful alien.
Hispanics who were convicted of any federal offense were more likely than nonHispanics to be sentenced to prison. But among all federal offenders sentenced to
prison, Hispanics were also more likely than blacks or whites to receive a shorter
prison term. These racial and ethnic disparities in sentencing appear to be linked
to USSC guidelines that attach clear boundaries for the types of sentences that can
be meted out for different types of crimes.
This report examines the ethnic, racial and citizenship status of sentenced
offenders in federal courts. It is important to note that the federal courts represent
a relatively small share of the overall criminal justice system in the United States.

2

Offenders without U.S. citizenship are either legal (resident) aliens, illegal aliens or of indeterminate immigration status.
Sentenced offenders who hold U.S. citizenship are either citizens by birth or naturalized citizens. It is not possible to
determine the birth country of sentenced offenders in the USSC’s Monitoring of Federal Criminal Sentences data files.

Pew Hispanic Center

February 18, 2009

A Rising Share: Hispanics and Federal Crime

iii

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2004 only 6% of all offenders
sentenced for a felony were sentenced in a federal court; the remainder were
sentenced in a state court (Durose and Langan, 2007).

Inmates in State Prisons, Federal Prisons and Local Jails
Inmates held in federal prisons represent a small share of all inmates held in correctional facilities in the
United States. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2007 nearly 2.3 million inmates were held
in state prisons, federal prisons or local jails. Only about 200,000, or 8.6%, were held in federal prisons
and facilities.
Hispanics represented nearly one-in-three (31%) inmates incarcerated in federal prisons in 2007, a
greater share than whites (28%) but a smaller share than blacks (37%) (Bureau of Justice Statistics
Program). This stands in sharp contrast to the ethnic and racial makeup of state prisons and local jails,
where more than nine-in-ten (91%) of the 2.3 million inmates in this country are held. Among inmates
held in state prisons, 19% were Hispanic, 36% were white and 39% were black in 2005 (West and
Sabol, 2008). Among inmates held in local jails, 16% were Hispanic, 43% were white and 39% were
black in 2007 (Pastore and Maguire, 2009).
According to the Pew Center on the States (2008), incarceration rates vary greatly across racial and
ethnic groups. In 2006, 1.5% of Hispanic adults were incarcerated, while 3.4% of blacks and less than
1% of whites were behind bars.

The data for this report are from the United States Sentencing Commission’s
Monitoring of Federal Criminal Sentences data files for fiscal years 1991 through
2007. These files contain information on all federal court cases in which an
offender was sentenced. Only those cases with documentation compiled by the
USSC are included in the data files. Prior to fiscal 1991, the commission utilized
an alternative data collection method (Reedt and Widico-Stroop, 2008); data from
those years are not included in the analysis presented in this paper.
Key findings of this report include:
Demographics of Sentenced Federal Offenders
•

Hispanics represented 40% of all sentenced federal offenders in 2007, the
single largest racial and ethnic group among sentenced federal offenders.
Whites constituted 27% of federal sentenced offenders and blacks 23%.
The remainder (10%) are Asians, Native Americans and those whose race
and ethnicity is indeterminate.

•

More than seven-in-ten (72%) of Hispanics sentenced in federal courts in
2007 did not hold U.S. citizenship. They accounted for 29% of all federal
offenders in 2007.

Pew Hispanic Center

February 18, 2009

A Rising Share: Hispanics and Federal Crime

iv

•

Latino offenders who did not hold U.S. citizenship represented a greater
share of all Latino offenders in 2007 than in 1991—72% versus 61%.

•

Between 1991 and 2007, the number of Hispanics sentenced in federal
courts nearly quadrupled (270%), rising faster than the number of
offenders sentenced in federal courts over this period and accounting for
54% of the growth in the total number of offenders.

•

In 2007, more than half (56%) of all Latino offenders were sentenced in
just five of the nation’s 94 U.S. district courts. All five are located near the
U.S.-Mexico border: the Southern (17%) and Western (15%) districts of
Texas, the District of Arizona (11%), the Southern District of California
(6%), and the District of New Mexico (6%).

Offense Convictions in Federal Courts
•

Among all Hispanics sentenced in federal courts in 2007, 48% were
sentenced for immigration offenses, 37% for drug offenses and 15% for
other offenses.

•

Of Hispanic offenders with U.S. citizenship, more than half (56%) were
sentenced for drug offenses, 14% for immigration offenses and 30% for all
other offenses.

•

Of Latino offenders who did not hold U.S. citizenship, more than six-inten (61%) were sentenced for immigration offenses, 30% for drug offenses
and 9% for all other offenses.

•

Much of the increase in the number of Hispanics sentenced in federal
courts has come from a rise in the number of offenders sentenced for
immigration offenses between 1991 and 2007.

•

Three-fourths of Hispanic immigration offenders were sentenced for
entering the U.S. unlawfully or residing in the country without
authorization. Nearly two-in-ten (19%) were sentenced for smuggling,
transporting or harboring an unlawful alien.

•

More than eight-in-ten (81%) non-citizen Hispanic immigration offenders
in 2007 were sentenced for entering the U.S. unlawfully or residing in the
country without authorization. In contrast, fully 91% of Latino
immigration offenders who were U.S. citizens were sentenced for
smuggling, transporting or harboring an unlawful alien.

Pew Hispanic Center

February 18, 2009

A Rising Share: Hispanics and Federal Crime

v

Prison Sentences
•

In 2007, Hispanics sentenced in federal courts were more likely than nonHispanic offenders to receive a prison sentence—96% versus 82%.

•

Hispanics sentenced in federal courts in 2007 received shorter prison
sentences than blacks or whites—46 months versus 91 months for blacks
and 62 months for whites.

•

Hispanics who did not hold U.S. citizenship were more likely to receive a
prison sentence in 2007 than those who were citizens—98% versus 90%.

•

The average prison sentence for Hispanics fell from 58 months in 1991 to
46 months in 2007.

•

Non-U.S. citizen Latinos received shorter prison sentences (40 months) in
2007 than Hispanics with U.S. citizenship (61 months).

Pew Hispanic Center

February 18, 2009

A Rising Share: Hispanics and Federal Crime

vi

About this Report
This report examines the characteristics of offenders sentenced in federal courts.
It does not provide an examination of offenders in state or local courts, where the
majority of all offenders are sentenced. The data for this report are from the
USSC’s Monitoring of Federal Criminal Sentences data for fiscal years 1991 to
2007. These files are the main source of information about the characteristics of
federal offenders and their sentences.
A Note on Terminology
The terms “Hispanic” and “Latino” are used interchangeably in this report. The
terms “whites” and “blacks” are used to refer to the non-Hispanic components of
their population.
The terms “undocumented” and “illegal” are used interchangeably in this report.
Non-U.S. citizens are individuals who are legal (resident) aliens, illegal aliens or
individuals without U.S. citizenship whose alien status is unknown.
U.S. citizens are citizens by birth or naturalized citizens.
About the Authors
Mark Hugo Lopez is the associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center. Prior to
joining the Center, Lopez was research director of the Center for Information and
Research on Civic Learning and Engagement as well as a research assistant
professor at the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland. His areas
of expertise include labor economics, civic engagement, voting behavior and the
economics of education. He received his Ph.D. in economics from Princeton
University.
Michael T. Light is a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology & Crime,
Law and Justice at Pennsylvania State University. Light was a research intern
with the Pew Hispanic Center from May to August 2008 and worked as a research
intern with the U.S. Sentencing Commission from January to August 2007. His
primary interests include race, ethnicity and crime, social stratification, sentencing
and immigration. He received his B.A. in sociology from Albion College.
Recommended Citation
Lopez, Mark Hugo and Michael T. Light. “A Rising Share: Hispanics and Federal
Crime,” Pew Hispanic Center, Washington, D.C. (February 18, 2009).

Pew Hispanic Center

February 18, 2009

A Rising Share: Hispanics and Federal Crime

vii

Acknowledgments
The authors thank Paul Taylor for his editorial and intellectual guidance. The
authors also thank Rakesh Kochhar, John Kramer of Pennsylvania State
University, Gretchen Livingston and Susan Minushkin for comments and
guidance on earlier drafts of this report. Daniel Dockterman provided outstanding
support for the production of the report. Ana Gonzalez-Barrera checked numbers
in the report. Marcia Kramer was the copy editor.

Pew Hispanic Center

February 18, 2009

A Rising Share: Hispanics and Federal Crime

viii

Contents
Executive Summary ....................................................................................................... i
Demographics of Sentenced Federal Offenders .................................................... iii
Offense Convictions in Federal Courts.................................................................. iv
Prison Sentences ..................................................................................................... v
About this Report................................................................................................... vi
A Note on Terminology ......................................................................................... vi
About the Authors.................................................................................................. vi
Recommended Citation.......................................................................................... vi
Acknowledgments................................................................................................. vii
Contents ..................................................................................................................... viii
Changing Demographics of Sentenced Federal Offenders........................................... 1
Hispanics Largest Group among Federal Offenders............................................... 1
Hispanics and a Growing Federal Caseload, 1991-2007 ........................................ 2
Hispanic Offenders in Federal District Courts........................................................ 3
Offense Convictions in Federal Courts in 2007............................................................ 4
Crimes of Sentenced Federal Offenders ................................................................. 4
Immigration Crimes a Growing Share of the Federal Caseload between 1991
and 2007.................................................................................................................. 5
Sentences Issued to Offenders in Federal Courts ......................................................... 6
Types of Sentences Issued ...................................................................................... 6
Average Prison Sentence Length ............................................................................ 8
References................................................................................................................... 10
Appendix A: Classification of Federal Offenses ........................................................ 11
Drugs..................................................................................................................... 11
Immigration........................................................................................................... 11
Pew Hispanic Center

February 18, 2009

A Rising Share: Hispanics and Federal Crime

ix

Violent................................................................................................................... 11
Property................................................................................................................. 12
White Collar and Fraud......................................................................................... 12
Firearms ................................................................................................................ 13
Other ..................................................................................................................... 13
Appendix B: Classification of Sentences Imposed..................................................... 15
Appendix C: Data Tables............................................................................................ 16

Pew Hispanic Center

February 18, 2009

A Rising Share: Hispanics and Federal Crime

1

Changing Demographics of Sentenced Federal
Offenders
Hispanics Largest Group among Federal Offenders
In 2007, four-in-ten
(40%) offenders
sentenced in federal
courts were Hispanic, a
share larger than whites
(27%) or blacks (23%).
This is a marked change
from the demographic
composition of
offenders sentenced in
1991, when 24% of
offenders were
Hispanic, 43% white
and 27% black.
Latino offenders are far
more likely than other offenders to be noncitizens. Among Latino sentenced offenders
in 2007, more than seven-in-ten (72%) did
not have U.S. citizenship. In comparison,
among white and black offenders, small
shares did not hold U.S. citizenship – 8%
and 6% respectively.
Non-citizen Hispanics represent a significant
share of all offenders sentenced in federal
courts. In 2007, 29% of all sentenced federal
offenders were non-U.S. citizen Hispanics,
larger than the share of offenders who were
white or the share who were black.

Pew Hispanic Center

February 18, 2009

A Rising Share: Hispanics and Federal Crime

2

Hispanics and a Growing Federal Caseload, 1991-2007
Between 1991 and 2007, the number of offenders sentenced in federal courts
more than doubled (118%). During this same period, the number of sentenced
Hispanic offenders nearly quadrupled (270%), from 7,924 in 1991 to 29,281 in
2007. Hispanics accounted for more than half (54%) of the growth in the number
of sentenced federal offenders over this period.

To a large extent, the growth in the number of Hispanics sentenced in federal
courts has come from Hispanics who do not hold U.S. citizenship. Between 1991
and 2007, Hispanics without U.S. citizenship accounted for 41% of the growth in
the total number of offenders sentenced in federal courts.

Pew Hispanic Center

February 18, 2009

A Rising Share: Hispanics and Federal Crime

3

Hispanic Offenders in Federal District Courts
In 2007, more than half (56%) of all Hispanics
sentenced in the 94 federal district courts were
sentenced in one of five courts: the Southern
(17%) and Western (15%) districts of Texas, the
District of Arizona (11%), the Southern District of
California (6%) and the District of New Mexico
(6%). All five courts are located along the U.S.Mexico border.
Accordingly, majorities of those sentenced in
2007 in the Southern District of Texas (89%), the
District of Puerto Rico (86%), the Western
District of Texas (78%), the District of New
Mexico (71%) and the District of Arizona (69%)
were Hispanic. In all five districts, non-U.S.
citizen Hispanic offenders made up majorities of
all Hispanics sentenced.
This geographic distribution of Hispanic offenders
was less concentrated in 1991, though a similar
concentration of cases in border districts was
evident. In that year, 52% of all Hispanics

Pew Hispanic Center

February 18, 2009

A Rising Share: Hispanics and Federal Crime

4

sentenced in federal courts were sentenced in one of five district courts: the
Southern District of Texas (20%), the Western District of Texas (10%), the
Southern District of California (9%), the Southern District of Florida (7%) and the
District of Arizona (6%).

Offense Convictions in Federal Courts in 2007
Crimes of Sentenced Federal Offenders
More than half (59%) of all offenders sentenced in federal courts in 2007 were
sentenced for drug crimes (35%) or immigration crimes (24%). Drug crime
convictions were the most prevalent offenses among sentenced offenders who
were white (31%) or black (44%). In contrast, among Latino offenders, the share
sentenced for drug crimes (37%) was second to the share sentenced for
immigration offenses (48%).
The distribution of offenders’ crimes was substantially different for Latinos who
held U.S. citizenship and those who did not. In 2007, more than half (56%) of
Hispanic offenders with U.S. citizenship were sentenced for drug offenses, 14%
for immigration offenses and 30% for all other offenses. In contrast, more than
six-in-ten (61%) non-citizen Latino offenders were sentenced for immigration
offenses, 30% for drug offenses and 9% for violent, property, white collar and
fraud, firearms and other offenses.

Among sentenced Latino immigration offenders in 2007, fully 75% were
convicted of entering the U.S. unlawfully or residing in the country without
authorization, and 19% were convicted of smuggling, transporting or harboring an
unlawful alien. The convictions broke down largely along citizenship lines.
Among sentenced non-citizen Latino immigration offenders, more than eight-inten (81%) were convicted of entering the U.S. unlawfully or residing in the
country without authorization. In contrast, more than nine-in-ten (91%) U.S.

Pew Hispanic Center

February 18, 2009

A Rising Share: Hispanics and Federal Crime

5

citizen Latino immigration offenders were convicted of smuggling, transporting
or harboring an unlawful alien.

Immigration Crimes a Growing Share of the Federal Caseload between 1991
and 2007
Beginning in 1995, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)
implemented an initiative called Operation Gatekeeper, which was designed to
increase border security. Since that time, the number of immigration offenders in
federal courts has increased from less than 10% of all cases prior to 1996 to 24%
in 2007 (USSC, 2004).
As the U.S. federal government sentenced more offenders for immigration crimes,
a growing share of Hispanics were sentenced for those crimes. This is particularly
true for Hispanic offenders without U.S. citizenship. Between 1991 and 2007, the
share of non-U.S. citizen Hispanics sentenced for immigration crimes more than
doubled from 28% to 61%.

Pew Hispanic Center

February 18, 2009

A Rising Share: Hispanics and Federal Crime

6

Sentences Issued to Offenders in Federal Courts
Types of Sentences Issued
Under USSC sentencing guidelines, sentenced offenders in federal courts
typically receive one of five sentences: a fine; a prison-only sentence; a prison
sentence plus confinement conditions; a probation sentence plus confinement
conditions; or a probation-only sentence. A prison sentence (a prison-only
sentence or a prison plus
confinement condition sentence) is
the most common punishment
imposed on offenders sentenced in
federal courts. Nearly nine-in-ten
(87%) federal offenders in 2007
were ordered to be incarcerated in
prison.
Fully 96% of immigration
offenders received a prison
sentence in 2007, compared with
95% of drug offenders, 94% of
firearms offenders and 94% of
violent offenders. Property
offenders were least likely to be

Pew Hispanic Center

February 18, 2009

A Rising Share: Hispanics and Federal Crime

7

sentenced to prison (44%) in 2007.
While large majorities of federal
offenders received a prison
sentence, some groups of offenders
were more likely than others to
receive one. In 2007, 96% of
Latino offenders, and 98% of nonU.S. citizen Latino offenders, were
sentenced to prison. In contrast,
89% of black offenders and 82% of
white offenders received a prison
sentence.
Because the USSC guidelines
provide clear sentencing recommendations for all offenses, disparities in the
prevalence of prison sentences among racial and ethnic groups are linked to
differences in the types of crimes they committed. For example, Hispanics are
much more likely than whites or blacks to be sentenced for an immigration or
drug offense—two of the crimes most likely to be punished with a prison
sentence. In 2007, 85% of Hispanics were sentenced for either a drug or
immigration offense. This was 40 percentage points greater than any other racial
or ethnic group: 46% of black offenders and 37% of white offenders were
sentenced for drug or immigration offenses.

Types of Sentences Imposed in Federal Courts
Convicted offenders in federal courts typically receive one of the following five sentences. For more
detail, see Appendix B.
•
•
•
•
•

Pew Hispanic Center

Fine: Offenders only fined, not imprisoned or given confinement conditions.
Prison Only: Offenders only imprisoned, not fined or given confinement conditions.
Prison Plus Confinement Conditions: Offenders receive a prison sentence plus a form of
alternative confinement such as community confinement, home detention or intermittent
confinement.
Probation Plus Confinement Conditions: Offenders receive probation plus a form of
alternative confinement such as community confinement, home detention or intermittent
confinement.
Probation Only: Offenders put on probation, not fined, imprisoned or given confinement
conditions.

February 18, 2009

A Rising Share: Hispanics and Federal Crime

8

Average Prison Sentence Length
Among those who were sentenced
to prison 3 in 2007, the average
sentence was 60 months. Black
offenders on average received the
longest sentences (91 months),
followed by whites (62 months)
and Hispanics (46 months). Among
Latino offenders sentenced to
prison, those who did not hold U.S.
citizenship received prison
sentences of 40 months in 2007. In
contrast, Latino offenders with
U.S. citizenship received longer
prison sentences of 61 months.
Between 1991 and 2007, the length of the average prison sentence among federal
offenders remained unchanged at 60 months. However, this stability masks
differences among racial and ethnic groups. Between 1991 and 2007, the average
prison sentence for blacks increased 24%, from 74 months to 91 months. For
whites, the average prison sentence length increased 17%, from 53 months to 62
months.
The experience of Hispanic offenders was markedly different. Between 1991 and
2007, the average prison sentence length for all Hispanics fell from 58 months to
46 months. Most of this decline in sentence length was due to the fall in sentence
length for non-U.S. citizen Hispanics. For them, prison sentences declined by
26%, from 54 months in 1991 to 40 months in 2007. Non-U.S. citizen Hispanics
received the least severe sentences among all offenders sentenced to prison since
1995. In contrast, the average prison sentence for U.S. citizen Hispanic offenders
fell slightly, from 63 months in 1991 to 61 months in 2007.
Just as with the type of sentence an offender receives, the length of a prison
sentence is closely related to the crime. In 2007, drug crime offenders received
the longest prison sentences, averaging 84 months. This was followed by
offenders sentenced for firearms crimes (81 months) and violent crimes (77
months). Immigration offenders had the shortest prison sentences, which averaged
25 months.

3

Average prison sentence length was calculated only for offenders whose prison sentence was from one month up to 470
months. Offenders whose sentence was 470 months (a life sentence) or greater were excluded. The prison sentence
length calculation includes those who were sentenced to time served.

Pew Hispanic Center

February 18, 2009

A Rising Share: Hispanics and Federal Crime

9

The decrease in average prison sentence lengths for Hispanic offenders is likely
due to the shift in types of crimes for which they were sentenced. In 1991, more
Hispanics were sentenced for drug crimes (60%) than immigration crimes (20%).
However, by 2007, among Hispanic offenders, immigration convictions made up
nearly half (48%) of all cases.

Pew Hispanic Center

February 18, 2009

A Rising Share: Hispanics and Federal Crime

10

References
Durose, Matthew R., and Patrick A. Langan, “Felony Sentences in State Courts,
2004,” NCJ 215646, Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice,
Office of Justice Programs, July 2007.
Mendelson, Margot, Shayna Strom and Michael Wishnie, “Collateral Damage: An
Examination of ICE’s Fugitive Operations Program,” Migration Policy Institute,
February 2009.
Passel, Jeffrey, “Unauthorized Migrants: Numbers and Characteristics,” Pew
Hispanic Center, June 14, 2005.
Passel, Jeffrey and D’Vera Cohn, “Trends in Unauthorized Immigration:
Undocumented Inflow Now Trails Legal Inflow,” Pew Hispanic Center, October
2, 2008.
Pastore, Ann L. and Kathleen Maguire, eds. Sourcebook of Criminal Justice
Statistics, Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of
Justice Programs, 2009.
Pew Center on the States, “One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008,” January 10,
2008.
Reedt, Louis and Jessica Widico-Stroop, “Changing Face of Federal Criminal
Sentencing: Seventeen Years of Growth in the Federal Sentencing Caseload,”
U.S. Sentencing Commission, December 2008.
U.S. Sentencing Commission, Federal Sentencing Guidelines Manual, 2007a.
U.S. Sentencing Commission, Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics, 2007b.
U.S. Sentencing Commission, Fifteen Years of Guidelines Sentencing: An Assessment
of How Well the Federal Criminal Justice System is Achieving the Goals of
Sentencing Reform. Washington DC, 2004.
West, Heather C. and William J. Sabol, Ph.D., “Prisoners in 2007,” NCJ 224280,
Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice
Programs, December 2008.

Pew Hispanic Center

February 18, 2009

A Rising Share: Hispanics and Federal Crime

11

Appendix A: Classification of Federal Offenses
Offense categories defined in this report were created by collapsing the primary
offense categories utilized by the U.S. Sentencing Commission. The Commission
determines an offender’s primary offense category by examining the offense
conviction with the highest statutory maximum. 4 Below is the description of the
primary offense categories that make up the offense categories used in the
analyses for this report.
Drugs
Trafficking includes drug distribution/manufacture, drug
distribution/manufacture: conspiracy, continuing criminal enterprise, drug
distribution; employee under 21, drug distribution near school, drug
import/export, drug distribution to person under 21, and establish/rent drug
operation.
Communication Facility includes use of a communication facility in a drug
trafficking offense.
Simple Possession includes distribution of a small amount of marijuana and
simple possession.
Immigration
Immigration includes trafficking in U.S. passports; trafficking in entry
documents; failing to surrender naturalization certificate; fraudulently acquiring
U.S. passports; smuggling, etc.; being an unlawful alien; fraudulently acquiring
entry documents; and unlawfully entering U.S.
Violent
Murder includes first-degree murder, felony with death resulting, second-degree
murder and conspiracy to murder (with death resulting).
Manslaughter includes both involuntary and voluntary manslaughter.
Sexual Abuse includes sexual abuse of a minor, transportation of minor for sex,
sexual abuse of a ward, criminal sexual abuse and abusive sexual contact.
Assault includes attempt to commit murder, assault with intent to murder,
threatening communication, aggravated assault, conspiracy with attempt to
4

These descriptions are those used by the USSC and are from the 2007 Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics,
Appendix A.

Pew Hispanic Center

February 18, 2009

A Rising Share: Hispanics and Federal Crime

12

murder, obstructing or impeding officers, minor assault and conspiracy that
includes assault with attempt to murder.
Robbery includes bank robbery, aggravated bank robbery, Hobbs Act robbery,
mail robbery, other robbery and carjacking.
Property
Arson also includes damage by explosives.
Burglary/Breaking & Entering includes post office burglary, burglary of Drug
Enforcement Administration premises (pharmacy), burglary of other structure,
bank burglary and burglary of a residence.
Auto Theft includes auto theft (including parts), receipt/possession of stolen auto
or parts and altered identification numbers/trafficking in altered (auto).
Larceny includes bank larceny, theft from benefit plans, other theft: mail/post
office, receipt/possession of stolen property (not auto), other theft; property,
larceny/theft-mail/post office, larceny/theft; property (not auto) and theft from
labor union.
White Collar and Fraud
Fraud includes odometer laws and regulations, insider trading, and fraud and
deceit.
Embezzlement includes embezzlement: property, embezzlement from labor
unions, embezzlement; mail/post office, embezzlement from benefit plans and
bank embezzlement.
Forgery/Counterfeiting includes counterfeit bearer obligations and
forgery/counterfeit (non-bearer obligations).
Bribery includes payment to obtain office, bribe involving officials, bribery: bank
loan/commercial, loan or gratuity to bank examiner, etc., gratuity involving
officials, and bribe or gratuity affecting employee plan.
Tax Offenses include receipt/trafficking in smuggled property, aid, etc., in tax
fraud: fraud, tax returns, statements, etc.; fraud, false statement/perjury; failure to
file or pay; tax evasion; evading import duties (smuggle); failure to collect or
account for taxes; and regulatory offenses: taxes; failure to deposit taxes in trust
account; nonpayment of taxes; conspiracy to avoid taxes; and offenses relating to
withholding statements.

Pew Hispanic Center

February 18, 2009

A Rising Share: Hispanics and Federal Crime

13

Money Laundering includes laundering of monetary instruments, monetary
transaction from unlawful activity, failure to file currency report and failure to
report monetary transactions.
Extortion/Racketeering includes extortionate extension of credit, blackmail,
extortion by force or treat, Hobbs Act extortion, travel in aid of racketeering,
crime relating to racketeering and violent crimes in aid of racketeering.
Antitrust includes bid-rigging, price-fixing and market allocation agreement.
Firearms
Firearms includes unlawful possession/transportation of firearms or ammunition;
possession of guns/explosives on aircraft; unlawful trafficking, etc., in explosives;
possession of guns/explosives in federal facility/schools; use of fire or explosives
to commit felony; and use of firearms or ammunition during crime.
Other
Gambling/Lottery includes engaging in a gambling business, transmission of
wagering information, obstruction to facilitate gambling and interstate
transportation of wagering paraphernalia.
Civil Rights includes interference with rights under color of law; force or threats
to deny benefits or rights; obstructing an election or registration; manufacture,
etc., of eavesdropping device; other deprivations/discrimination; obstructing
correspondence; peonage, servitude and slave trade; intercept communication or
eavesdropping; and conspiracy to deprive an individual of civil rights.
Pornography, Prostitution includes dealing in obscene matter, transportation of
minor for prostitution, transportation for prostitution/sex (adult), sexual
exploitation of minors, materials involving sexual exploitation of minors, obscene
telephone or broadcasting, and selling or buying children for pornography.
Offenses in Prisons includes contraband in prisons, riots in federal facilities and
escape.
Administration of Justice includes commission of offense while on release,
bribery of a witness, failure to appear by offender, contempt, failure to appear by
material witness, obstruction of justice, payment of a witness, perjury or
subornation of perjury, misprision of a felony and accessory after the fact.
Environmental/Fish and Wildlife includes waste discharge and offenses relating
to specially protected fish, wildlife and plants.
National Defense includes evasion of export controls and exportation of arms,
etc., without a license.
Pew Hispanic Center

February 18, 2009

A Rising Share: Hispanics and Federal Crime

14

Food and Drug includes false information or tampering with products, tampering
to injure business, tampering with risk of death or injury, and violation of
regulations involving food, drugs, etc.
Kidnapping/Hostage includes ransom taking and hostage/kidnapping.
Other Miscellaneous Offenses includes illegal use of regulatory number – drugs;
illegal transfer of drugs; illegal regulatory number to get drugs; drug
paraphernalia; forgery/fraud for drugs; dangerous devices to protect drugs;
manufacture drugs against quota; endangering life while manufacturing drugs;
operate carrier under drugs; endangerment from hazardous/toxic substances;
mishandling substances, records, etc.; threat of tampering with public water
system; hazardous devices of federal lands; mishandling other pollutants, records,
etc.; improper storage of explosives; recordkeeping violation – explosives;
possession of other weapon – on aircraft, in federal facility; failure to report theft
of explosives; feloniously mailing injurious articles; transport of hazardous
material in commerce; interference with flight crew, other offense – aboard
aircraft; criminal infringement of copyright/trademark; conflict of interest;
unauthorized payment; non-drug forfeiture; impersonation; false statement to
Employee Act; reporting offenses – labor related; criminal infringement of
trademark; unlawful conduct relating to control/cigarettes; trespass; destruction of
property; destruction of mail; aircraft piracy; conspiracy to murder (no death,
assault or attempt); conspiracy to commit murder; and all other miscellaneous
offenses not previously listed in any of the other categories.

Pew Hispanic Center

February 18, 2009

A Rising Share: Hispanics and Federal Crime

15

Appendix B: Classification of Sentences Imposed
The following classification for the types of sentence imposed comes from
Variable Codebook for Individual Offenders – Standardized Research Data Files
for Fiscal Years 1999-2007. These descriptions are those used by the U.S.
Sentencing Commission and come from the 2007 Sourcebook of Federal
Sentencing Statistics, Appendix A.
The Fine Only category includes those offenders that received neither a prison or
probation sentence, but only a fine.
The Prison category includes offenders sentenced to a term of imprisonment only,
with no additional conditions of community confinement, home detention or
intermittent confinement.
The Prison plus confinement conditions category includes all cases in which
offenders received prison and conditions of alternative confinement as defined in
USSG §5C1.1. This category includes, but is not limited to, Zone A, Zone B, or
Zone C cases receiving prison with additional conditions of a term of community
confinement, home detention, or intermittent confinement.
The Probation Only category includes the number of offenders who received a
term of probation without a condition of community confinement, intermittent
confinement, or home detention.
The Probation plus confinement conditions category includes the number of
offenders who received a term of probation with a condition of community
confinement, intermittent confinement, or home detention.
Prison sentences for any offender are expressed in months. Currently the U.S.S.C.
assigns life sentences a value of 470 months. Prior to FY 1993, the U.S.S.C.
assigned life sentences 360 months. Those who received only probation or
probation plus confinement conditions were not included in mean prison sentence
calculations.

Pew Hispanic Center

February 18, 2009

A Rising Share: Hispanics and Federal Crime

16

Appendix C: Data Tables

Pew Hispanic Center

February 18, 2009

A Rising Share: Hispanics and Federal Crime

Pew Hispanic Center

17

February 18, 2009

 

 

Prisoner Education Guide side
Advertise Here 4th Ad
The Habeas Citebook Ineffective Counsel Side