Racial Disparity in Federal Criminal Sentences

  title={Racial Disparity in Federal Criminal Sentences},
  author={M. Marit Rehavi and Sonja B. Starr},
  journal={Journal of Political Economy},
  pages={1320 - 1354}
Using rich data linking federal cases from arrest through to sentencing, we find that initial case and defendant characteristics, including arrest offense and criminal history, can explain most of the large raw racial disparity in federal sentences, but significant gaps remain. Across the distribution, blacks receive sentences that are almost 10 percent longer than those of comparable whites arrested for the same crimes. Most of this disparity can be explained by prosecutors’ initial charging… 

Racial Sentencing Disparities and Differential Progression Through the Criminal Justice System: Evidence From Linked Federal and State Court Data

Several key actors – police, prosecutors, judges – can alter the course of individuals passing through the multi-staged criminal justice system. I use linked arrest-sentencing data for federal courts

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

Resource Constraints and the Criminal Justice System: Evidence from Judicial Vacancies

Ten percent of federal judgeships are currently vacant, yet little is known on the impact of these vacancies on criminal justice outcomes. Using judge deaths and pension eligibility as instruments

Free at Last? Judicial Discretion and Racial Disparities in Federal Sentencing

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

Using a Ratio Test to Estimate Racial Differences in Wrongful Conviction Rates

We show that under arguably plausible assumptions regarding the DNA exoneration process, in expectation, the ratio of DNA exoneration rates across races among defendants convicted for the same crime

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.

Racial Disparities in the Acquisition of Juvenile Arrest Records

It is explored whether booked arrests increase the likelihood of future arrests and bookings exploiting the discontinuity in the booking probability at age 18, and the results suggest sizable effects of a prior booking on the possibility of a future arrest and subsequent booking.

The Impact of Judicial Elections in the Sentencing of Black Crime

This paper explores the possibility that criminal court judges engage in discriminatory sentencing in response to judicial elections. I use a research design that (1) distinguishes between the

The Declining Significance of Race in Criminal Sentencing: Evidence from US Federal Courts

Racial inequality in sentencing has decreased substantially over the last decade. In 2009, the average sentencing difference between black and white defendants in federal court was nearly 3 yrs. By

Hispanic-White Sentencing Di¤erentials in the Federal Criminal Justice System

In the Federal criminal justice system (CJS), large Hispanic-White di¤erences in sentencing outcomes exist. We examine the malleability of factors that drive such di¤erences. To do so, we exploit




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

Racial, Ethnic, and Gender Disparities in Sentencing: Evidence from the U.S. Federal Courts*

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

What do prosecutors maximize? An analysis of the federalization of drug crimes

It is found that individuals who hire private attorneys and who are high-human-capital and successful in the legitimate sector are more likely to end up in the federal system, consistent with the model in which prosecutors maximize both the payoffs from eliminating crime and their private human capital.

Criminal Prosecutions: Examining Prosecutorial Discretion and Charge Reductions in U.S. Federal District Courts

The role of the prosecutor in criminal punishments remains a fervent topic of criminal justice discourse, yet it has received limited empirical attention, particularly for U.S. Attorneys in federal

Crime, punishment, and prejudice

Measuring Interjudge Sentencing Disparity: Before and After the Federal Sentencing Guidelines*

This paper evaluates the impact of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines on interjudge sentencing disparity, which is defined as the differences in average nominal prison sentence lengths for comparable

The Role of Discretion in the Criminal Justice System

Although a substantial body of research suggests that the discretion of discretion of actors in the criminal justice system is important, there is disagreement in the existing empirical literature

Sentencing Guidelines and Judicial Discretion: Quasi‐Experimental Evidence from Human Calculation Errors

The extent to which rules set by the legislature bind or influence decisions regarding sentence length is central to institutional design and to determining the practical impact of any proposed

Racial Bias in Motor Vehicle Searches: Theory and Evidence

Police checking for illegal drugs are much more likely to search the vehicles of African‐American motorists than those of white motorists. This paper develops a model of police and motorist behavior

Making the Crime Fit the Penalty: The Role of Prosecutorial Discretion under Mandatory Minimum Sentencing*

This paper empirically documents one way in which prosecutorial discretion may be used to dampen the effects of mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Specifically, prosecutors can use their discretion