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Non-whites receive harsher sentences for inflicted traumatic brain injury of children
Date:6/4/2008

CHAPEL HILL Non-white defendants are nearly twice as likely to receive harsher prison sentences than white defendants in North Carolina criminal cases stemming from inflicted traumatic brain injury of young children.

That's the conclusion reached by researchers from the Injury Prevention Research Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who tracked down what happened in every such case prosecuted in North Carolina in 2000 and 2001. Their study appears in the June issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Inflicted traumatic brain injury is a specific form of child abuse, which includes but is not limited to shaken baby syndrome.

"We expected to find that whether or not the child died would be the factor most predictive of the punishment that was imposed," said Dr. Desmond K. Runyan, the study's senior author, professor and chair of the social medicine department in UNC's School of Medicine. Runyan is also a professor in the pediatrics department and an adjunct professor in the School of Public Health's epidemiology department.

"But we found instead, much to our surprise, that the race of the defendant was the most predictive factor," Runyan said. "Death of the child didn't matter nearly as much in terms of the sentence, and neither did any of the other factors we examined."

Defendants whose race was defined as non-white (which included African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans) were 1.9 times more likely than white defendants to receive a severe sentence. For the purposes of the study, severe sentences were defined as 90 days in prison or longer. Sentences defined as not severe included probation, community service and prison time of less than 90 days.

Runyan said the study raises serious questions of public health and social policy, including whether or not harsh prison sentences for the perpetrators of traumatic brain injury in young children is the most beneficial way for society to d
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Contact: Patric Lane
patric_lane@unc.edu
919-962-8596
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Source:Eurekalert

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