Do Judges Vary in Their Treatment of Race?

Biases in judicial sentencing against racial, ethnic and religious minorities have been pronounced over the years. In the United States, Black men constitute 6 per cent of the US adult population but are approximately 35 per cent of the prison population and are incarcerated at a rate six times that of white males (Carson and Sabol 2012). One in three black men will be incarcerated at some point in his life (Bonczar 2003). The paper seeks to 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. The authors measure the between-judge variation in the difference in incarceration rates and sentence lengths between African American and white defendants and observe a statistically significant difference between-judge variation in incarceration rates, although not in sentence lengths. Read the full paper here.

Authors: David S. Abrams, Marianne Bertrand, and Sendhil Mullainathan

Source: University of Chicago