Do Judges Vary in Their Treatment of Race?

  title={Do Judges Vary in Their Treatment of Race?},
  author={David S. Abrams and Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan},
  journal={The Journal of Legal Studies},
  pages={347 - 383}
Are minorities treated differently by the legal system? Systematic racial differences in case characteristics, many unobservable, make this a difficult question to answer directly. In this paper, we estimate whether judges differ from each other in how they sentence minorities, avoiding potential bias from unobservable case characteristics by exploiting the random assignment of cases to judges. We measure the between-judge variation in the difference in incarceration rates and sentence lengths… 

Racial Divisions and Criminal Justice: Evidence from Southern State Courts

The US criminal justice system is exceptionally punitive. We test whether racial heterogeneity is one cause, exploiting cross-jurisdiction variation in punishment severity in four Southern states. We

Judicial Politics and Sentencing Decisions

This paper investigates whether judge political affiliation contributes to racial and gender disparities in sentencing using data on over 500,000 federal defendants linked to sentencing judge.

Judges, Juveniles, and In-Group Bias

We investigate the existence of in-group bias (preferential treatment of one’s own group) in court decisions. Using the universe of juvenile-court cases in a US state between 1996 and 2012 and

Measuring Racial Discrimination in Bail Decisions

We develop new quasi-experimental tools to measure disparate impact, regardless of its source, in the context of bail decisions. We show that omitted variables bias in pretrial release rate

Electoral Incentives, Race, and Judicial Decision Making - Evidence From One Million Criminal Cases

The majority of states in the U.S. select judges via popular partisan elections. Do such elections induce judges to modify their sentencing, and if they do, are the effects concentrated among certain

Do Judges’ Characteristics Matter? Ethnicity, Gender, and Partisanship in Texas State Trial Courts

We explore how government officials’ behavior varies with their ethnicity, gender, and political orientation. Specifically, we analyze criminal sentencing decisions in Texas state district courts

Equal Time for Equal Crime? Racial Bias in School Discipline

Racial disparities in school discipline may arise from differences in hard-to-observe student behavior or from bias, in which treatment for the same behavior differs by student race or eth-nicity. We

Do Judges Have Tastes for Racial Discrimination? Evidence from Trial Judges

There are numerous studies that find trial judges issue racially disparate sentences; however, whether these patterns reflect tastes for discrimination remains unclear. An alternative explanation is

Bias and Judging

How do we know whether judges of different backgrounds are biased? We review the substantial political science literature on judicial decision making, paying close attention to how judges'


The Federal Sentencing Guidelines were created to reduce unwarranted sentencing disparities among similar defendants. This paper explores the impact of increased judicial discretion on racial



Does Unconscious Racial Bias Affect Trial Judges

Race matters in the criminal justice system. Black defendants appear to fare worse than similarly situated white defendants. Why? Implicit bias is one possibility. Researchers, using a well-known

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

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.


This study uses data on Pennsylvania sentencing practices to compare the sentence outcomes of white, black, and Hispanic defendants. Besides the overall more lenient treatment of white defendants,

Ethnicity and Sentencing Outcomes in U.S. Federal Courts: Who is Punished More Harshly?

Using federal court data collected by the U.S. Sentencing Commission for the years 1993-1996, this study examines racial/ethnic differences-white versus black versus white-Hispanic versus

Race in the Courtroom: Perceptions of Guilt and Dispositional Attributions

The present studies compare the judgments of White and Black mock jurors in interracial trials. In Study 1, the defendant’s race did not influence White college students’ decisions but Black students

A Market Test for Race Discrimination in Bail Setting

Regression analysis, a common method of attempting to demonstrate racial and gender discrimination in hiring and other contexts, suffers from a number of shortcomings that invariably cast doubt on


This paper examines 77,236 federal offenders sentenced under the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 and concludes the following. First, after controlling for extensive criminological, demographic, and

Race and Plea Bargained Outcomes: A Research Note

Peterson and Hagan (1984) argue that the influence of race on criminal sentencing must be considered within specific contexts and in varying social settings. The adjudication of male burglary

Gender, Race, and Sentencing

Race and gender pose empirical and policy problems that are both similar and different for the U. S. criminal justice system. They are similar in that blacks and women occupy subordinate social and