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Assessing Racial Discrimination in Parole Release

  • Mechoulan, Stéphane
  • Sahuguet, Nicolas

We investigate possible racial discrimination in the context of discretionary parole release. We develop a rational choice model of release whereby a parole board must balance parolees' risk of violation with the cost of not releasing prisoners who may not violate their parole. A color-blind parole board would release all individuals below a certain risk threshold. To test this prediction, we take advantage of a unique data set that reports all prisoners released on parole between 1983 and 2003 in the U.S. We apply the outcome test methodology recently used to assess racial profiling in police search decisions. Here, a higher rate of parole violation within a group suggests that the parole board used a less restrictive paroling criterion, and is thus biased in favor of that group. To overcome the concern of inframarginality that traditionally plagues outcome tests we provide evidence that parole boards strategically time the release of parolees. In turn, both minority and White prisoners become marginal from the perspective of their probability of parole violation. Parole boards operating under an indeterminate sentencing regime appear biased against White prisoners whose violation rate is significantly smaller than that of African Americans. In contrast, this gap is smaller or null when there is no discretion in the paroling system. Further evidence rules out post-release discrimination. We propose different hypotheses to account for the evidence.

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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 8506.

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Date of creation: Aug 2011
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Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:8506
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  1. Ayres, Ian & Vars, Fredrick E, 2000. "Determinants of Citations to Articles in Elite Law Reviews," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 29(1), pages 427-50, January.
  2. John Knowles & Nicola Persico & Petra Todd, 2001. "Racial Bias in Motor Vehicle Searches: Theory and Evidence," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(1), pages 203-232, February.
  3. Moses Shayo & Asaf Zussman, 2011. "Judicial Ingroup Bias in the Shadow of Terrorism," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 126(3), pages 1447-1484.
  4. Curry, Philip A. & Klumpp, Tilman, 2009. "Crime, punishment, and prejudice," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 93(1-2), pages 73-84, February.
  5. Ai, Chunrong & Norton, Edward C., 2003. "Interaction terms in logit and probit models," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 80(1), pages 123-129, July.
  6. Fabel, Oliver & Meier, Volker, 1999. "Optimal parole decisions1," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 19(2), pages 159-166, June.
  7. Fabel, Oliver & Meier, Volker, 1999. "Optimal parole decisions," Munich Reprints in Economics 20546, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
  8. Dan Bernhardt & Steeve Mongrain & Joanne Roberts, 2012. "Rehabilitated or Not: An Informational Theory of Parole Decisions," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 28(2), pages 186-210.
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