Racial Disparities in Criminal Sentencing Vary Considerably Across Federal Judges
Published in: Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics, Volume 179, Issue 1, pages 92–113 (March 2023). doi: 10.1628/jite-2023-0005
Posted on RAND.org on February 15, 2023
Substantial race-based disparities exist in federal criminal sentencing. We analyze 380,000 recent (2006–2019) sentences in the JUSTFAIR database and show that these disparities are large and vary considerably across judges. Judges assign White defendants sentences 13% shorter than Black defendants' and 19% shorter than Hispanic defendants' sentences, on average, conditional on case characteristics and district. Judges one standard deviation above average in their estimated Black-White disparity give Black defendants sentences 39% conditionally longer than White defendants' sentences, vis-à-vis average disparity of 13%. Judges one standard deviation above average in their estimated Hispanic-White disparity give Hispanic defendants sentences 49% conditionally longer than White defendants' sentences, compared to the average disparity of 19%.
Research conducted by
This report is part of the RAND Corporation External publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.
The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.