Do you receive a lighter prison sentence because you are a woman or a white? An economic analysis of the federal criminal sentencing guidelines

Todd Andrew Sorensen, Surpriya Sarnikar, Ronald L Oaxaca

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

5 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-54
Number of pages54
JournalB.E. Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy
Volume14
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014

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Economic analysis
Prison
Utility maximization
Severity
Ethnic groups
Exercise
Decomposition methodology
Robustness

Keywords

  • Criminal justice
  • Discrimination
  • Sentencing guidelines

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance (miscellaneous)
  • Economics and Econometrics

Cite this

Do you receive a lighter prison sentence because you are a woman or a white? An economic analysis of the federal criminal sentencing guidelines. / Sorensen, Todd Andrew; Sarnikar, Surpriya; Oaxaca, Ronald L.

In: B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy, Vol. 14, No. 1, 01.01.2014, p. 1-54.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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