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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."

Suggested Citation

  • Howard Bodenhorn, 2008. "Criminal Sentencing in Nineteenth Century Pennsylvania," NBER Working Papers 14283, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:14283
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Edward L. Glaeser & Bruce Sacerdote & José A. Scheinkman, 1996. "Crime and Social Interactions," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 111(2), pages 507-548.
    2. Scott A. Carson, 2007. "Health during Industrialization: Evidence from the 19th Century Pennsylvania State Prison System," CESifo Working Paper Series 1975, CESifo Group Munich.
    3. Howard Bodenhorn & Christopher Ruebeck, 2007. "Colourism and African–american wealth: evidence from the nineteenth-century south," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 20(3), pages 599-620, July.
    4. Carolyn Moehling & Anne Morrison Piehl, 2007. "Immigration and Crime in Early 20th Century America," Departmental Working Papers 200704, Rutgers University, Department of Economics.
    5. Griswold, David B., 1987. "Deviation from sentencing guidelines: The issue of unwarranted disparity," Journal of Criminal Justice, Elsevier, vol. 15(4), pages 317-329.
    6. 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 345-366, October.
    7. 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.
    8. 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 225-258, December.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • K14 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law - - - Criminal Law
    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law
    • N41 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913

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