Court Sentencing Patterns for Environmental Crimes: Is There a “Green” Gap in Punishment?

Joshua C. Cochran, Michael J. Lynch, Elisa L. Toman, Ryan T. Shields

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Objectives: This study examines sentencing patterns for environmental crimes and tests the assumption that “green” offenders receive more lenient treatment from criminal courts than non-environmental offenders. Methods: We present two sets of analyses. First, we present an empirical portrait of environmental felony offenses convicted in a single state (Florida) over a fifteen-year period and the resulting criminal sanctions. Second, we use a precision matching analysis to assess whether environmental offenders receive more lenient treatment when compared to non-environmental offenders with the same characteristics and offense severity scores. Results: Findings indicate that an overall small percentage of felony convictions in state courts stem from environmental crimes. We also find that punishments for environmental crimes are more lenient than sanctions assigned to comparable non-environmental offenses when the environmental crime is ecological, but that punishments are sometimes harsher when the environmental crime involves animals. Conclusions: The findings provide general support for the argument that courts and other formal institutions of social control treat environmental crimes more leniently than non-environmental crimes. This paper also raises important questions about citizen and state actors’ perceptions of crimes against the environment and, more generally, about the ways in which theories of court sentencing behaviors apply to environmental crime sanctioning decisions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)37-66
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Quantitative Criminology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Environmental crime
  • Green criminology
  • Precision matching
  • Sentencing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law


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