Cover: Racial Disparities in Criminal Sentencing Vary Considerably Across Federal Judges

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 Feb 15, 2023

by Nicholas Goldrosen, Christian Michael Smith, Maria-Veronica Ciocanel, Rebecca Santorella, Shilad Sen, Shawn D. Bushway, Chad M. Topaz

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%.

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