CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Abrams, Bertrand & Mullainathan on Racial Disparities in Sentencing

Abrams david David Abrams (pictured), Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan (University of Pennsylvania , University of Chicago - Booth School of Business and Harvard University - Department of Economics) have posted Do Judges Vary in Their Treatment of Race? (Journal of Legal Studies, Forthcoming) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Are minorities treated differently by the legal system? Systematic racial differences in case characteristics, many unobservable, make this a difficult question to answer directly. In this paper, we estimate whether judges differ from each other in how they sentence minorities, avoiding potential bias from unobservable case characteristics by exploiting the random assignment of cases to judges. We measure the between-judge variation in the difference in incarceration rates and sentence lengths between African-American and White defendants. We perform a Monte Carlo simulation in order to explicitly construct the appropriate counterfactual, where race does not influence judicial sentencing. In our data set, which includes felony cases from Cook County, Illinois, we find statistically significant between-judge variation in incarceration rates, although not in sentence lengths.

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