Empirical analysis of the disproportionate application of carceral punishment has traditionally targeted race and class inequality while omitting noncitizens as a systematically disadvantaged population within the criminal justice system. Of the limited extant literature on this issue, nearly all have examined overall incarceration odds while failing to account for prison alternative eligibility, inaccurately measuring judicial discretion. Likewise, none have disaggregated noncitizens across nationality, an oversight that implicitly assuming that all noncitizens are equal recipients of discrimination, likely suppressing noncitizen disadvantage. Finally, these studies often fail to include contextual measures in their analyses. Using data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC)’s Monitoring of Federal Sentences from 1999 to 2013, this study examines case-, district-, and cross-level effects of citizenship status, documentation status, and nationality on incarceration odds, prison alternatives, and sentence length for federal drug offenders. The results of this study support the hypothesis that noncitizens receive more severe sentencing outcomes than U.S. citizens, Mexican noncitizens receive more severe outcomes compared to those from other countries, and undocumented noncitizens receive more punitive outcomes, though these findings vary across districts. However, counter to minority threat theory, noncitizen (offender) populations do not appear to influence incarceration outcomes for noncitizen offenders in the projected direction.
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