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Criminal Sentencing in Nineteenth Century Pennsylvania

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  • Howard Bodenhorn

Abstract

How law is interpreted and enforced at a particular historical moment reflects contemporary social concerns and prejudices. This paper investigates the nature of criminal sentencing in mid-nineteenth-century Pennsylvania. It finds that extralegal factors, namely place of conviction and several personal characteristics, were important determinants of sentence length. The observed disparities in the mid-nineteenth century, however, are different than modern disparities. Instead of longer sentences, African Americans and recent immigrants tended to receive shorter sentences, whereas more affluent offenders received longer sentences. The results are consistent with other interpretations of the period as the "era of the common man."

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 14283.

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Date of creation: Aug 2008
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Publication status: published as "Criminal Sentencing in Nineteenth Century Pennsylvania." Explorations in Economic History 46:3 (July 2009), 287-298.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:14283

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  1. Scott A. Carson, 2007. "Health during Industrialization: Evidence from the 19th Century Pennsylvania State Prison System," CESifo Working Paper Series 1975, CESifo Group Munich.
  2. Edward L. Glaeser & Bruce Sacerdote, 1999. "Why Is There More Crime in Cities?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 107(S6), pages S225-S258, December.
  3. Carolyn Moehling & Anne Morrison Piehl, 2007. "Immigration and Crime in Early 20th Century America," NBER Working Papers 13576, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Howard Bodenhorn & Christopher Ruebeck, 2007. "Colourism and African–american wealth: evidence from the nineteenth-century south," Journal of Population Economics, Springer, vol. 20(3), pages 599-620, July.
  5. Edward L. Glaeser & Bruce Sacerdote & Jose A. Scheinkman, 1995. "Crime and Social Interactions," NBER Working Papers 5026, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Mustard, David B, 2001. "Racial, Ethnic, and Gender Disparities in Sentencing: Evidence from the U.S. Federal Courts," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 44(1), pages 285-314, April.
  7. Farmer, Amy & Terrell, Dek, 2001. "Crime versus Justice: Is There a Trade-Off?," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 44(2), pages 345-66, October.
  8. Griswold, David B., 1987. "Deviation from sentencing guidelines: The issue of unwarranted disparity," Journal of Criminal Justice, Elsevier, vol. 15(4), pages 317-329.
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