CrimProf Blog

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

Friday, December 8, 2023

Keay et al. on Institutional Change and Criminal Sentencing

Ian KeayKris Inwood, and Blair Long (Department of Economics, Queen's University, University of Guelph - Department of Economics and Cape Breton University) have posted Institutional Change and Criminal Sentencing on the Frontier: Evidence from British Columbia's Jails, 1864-1913 on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
In this paper we document the effect of transformative institutional change on criminal sentencing in a frontier environment. New historical evidence digitized from British Columbia’s (BC) prison admission ledgers allows us to track changes in sentencing distributions from 1864 to 1913. We find that as BC's criminal justice system moved from informal and locally independent colonial institutions, toward a set of institutions that closely resemble the system in place today, average sentences got longer and sentence dispersion fell. We isolate the increase in sentence length and decrease in sentence dispersion that can be attributed to changes in judicial decision-making by controlling for changes in the observable characteristics of the province's prison population. We also show that changes in the sentencing distribution were coincident with a reduction in judicial discretion, an increase in sentence predictability, and an expansion in the criminal justice system along the extensive margin.

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