Using data obtained from the United States Sentencing Commission's records, we examine the extent to which the Federal Criminal Sentencing Guidelines curbed judicial sentencing preferences based on gender, race, and ethnicity. Our structural utility maximization model of judicial sentencing and a new generalized nonlinear decomposition methodology allow us to conduct a counterfactual exercise examining the impact of the guidelines on sentences during our period of study. Our results indicate that under the guidelines, and after controlling for circumstances such as the severity of the offense and past criminal history, judicial preferences strongly favor women while also disadvantaging Black men. In most of our estimates, we find that in the absence of the guidelines, judicial preferences would have increased the unexplained gap. Our findings stand up to a wide variety of robustness checks.
- Criminal justice
- Sentencing guidelines
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Economics and Econometrics
- Economics, Econometrics and Finance (miscellaneous)