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Racial and Sex Disparities in Prison Sentences: The Effect of District-Level Judicial Demographics

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  • Max Schanzenbach

Abstract

This paper estimates the effect of judicial characteristics (political affiliation, race, and sex) on federal criminal sentencing using variation in judicial characteristics at the district level. The results suggest that judges’ race and sex have little influence on prison sentences in general but do affect racial and sex disparities. For serious offenses, increasing the proportion of female judges in a district decreases the sex disparity. I interpret this as evidence of a paternalistic bias among male judges that favors female offenders. The racial composition of the bench has mixed effects that are open to different interpretations. Finally, there is little evidence that the political composition of the district affects sentencing disparities.

Suggested Citation

  • Max Schanzenbach, 2005. "Racial and Sex Disparities in Prison Sentences: The Effect of District-Level Judicial Demographics," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 34(1), pages 57-92, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlstud:v:34:y:2005:p:57-92
    DOI: 10.1086/425597
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Anderson, James M & Kling, Jeffrey R & Stith, Kate, 1999. "Measuring Interjedge Sentencing Disparity: Before and After the Federal Sentencing Guidelines," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 42(1), pages 271-307, April.
    2. LaCasse, Chantale & Payne, A Abigail, 1999. "Federal Sentencing Guidelines and Mandatory Minimum Sentences: Do Defendants Bargain in the Shadow of the Judge?," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 42(1), pages 245-269, April.
    3. Ashenfelter, Orley & Eisenberg, Theodore & Schwab, Stewart J, 1995. "Politics and the Judiciary: The Influence of Judicial Background on Case Outcomes," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 24(2), pages 257-281, June.
    4. Richard T. Boylan, 2004. "Do the Sentencing Guidelines Influence the Retirement Decisions of Federal Judges?," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 33(1), pages 231-253, January.
    5. Smith, Joseph L & Tiller, Emerson H, 2002. "The Strategy of Judging: Evidence from Administrative Law," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 31(1), pages 61-82, January.
    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.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Philippe, Arnaud, 2017. "Incarcerate one to calm the others? Spillover effects of incarceration among criminal groups: Job Market Paper," TSE Working Papers 17-840, Toulouse School of Economics (TSE).
    2. Joseph Price & Justin Wolfers, 2010. "Racial Discrimination Among NBA Referees," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 125(4), pages 1859-1887.
    3. repec:ucp:jlawec:doi:10.1086/693822 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Chen, Daniel L. & Prescott, J.J., 2016. "Implicit Egoism in Sentencing Decisions: First Letter Name Effects with Randomly Assigned Defendants," IAST Working Papers 16-56, Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse (IAST).
    5. Philippe, Arnaud, 2017. "Incarcerate one to calm the others? Spillover effects of incarceration among criminal groups: Job Maket Paper," IAST Working Papers 17-70, Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse (IAST).
    6. Epstein Gil S. & Lindner Pomerantz Renana, 2011. "Media and Litigation," Review of Law & Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 7(2), pages 539-571, December.
    7. Sarnikar, Supriya & Sorensen, Todd A. & Oaxaca, Ronald L., 2007. "Do You Receive a Lighter Prison Sentence Because You Are a Woman? An Economic Analysis of Federal Criminal Sentencing Guidelines," IZA Discussion Papers 2870, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    8. repec:eee:irlaec:v:52:y:2017:i:c:p:1-15 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Joshua B. Fischman & Max M. Schanzenbach, 2011. "Do Standards of Review Matter? The Case of Federal Criminal Sentencing," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 40(2), pages 405-437.
    10. Bekkerman, Anton & Gilpin, Gregory A., 2014. "Can equitable punishment be mandated? Estimating impacts of sentencing guidelines on disciplinary disparities," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 40(C), pages 51-61.
    11. Stéphane Mechoulan & Nicolas Sahuguet, 2015. "Assessing Racial Disparities in Parole Release," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 44(1), pages 39-74.
    12. Philippe, Arnaud, 2017. "Gender disparities in criminal justice," TSE Working Papers 17-762, Toulouse School of Economics (TSE).
    13. Nutting Andrew W., 2017. "Preferences Toward Leniency under Mandatory Criminal Sentencing Guidelines: Role-in-the-Offense Adjustments for Federal Drug Trafficking Defendants," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 17(1), pages 1-18, February.
    14. Briggs Depew & Ozkan Eren & Naci Mocan, 2017. "Judges, Juveniles, and In-Group Bias," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 60(2), pages 209-239.
    15. Crystal S. Yang, 2015. "Free at Last? Judicial Discretion and Racial Disparities in Federal Sentencing," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 44(1), pages 75-111.
    16. Philippe, Arnaud, 2017. "Do jurors and professional judges differ in their treatment of crime?: Evidence from French reform," TSE Working Papers 17-763, Toulouse School of Economics (TSE).
    17. David S. Abrams & Marianne Bertrand & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2012. "Do Judges Vary in Their Treatment of Race?," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 41(2), pages 347-383.

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