Study of Chicago Judges Confirms ‘Racial Gap’ in Jail Sentencing


New research into the “racial gap” in criminal sentencing appeared to confirm that race plays a role in whether judges send defendants to jail, although it widely among judges, reports the National Law Journal. The conclusions came after researchers spent seven years collecting and analyzing decades of data on felony sentencing in Cook County, Ill. Black defendants had an average incarceration rate of 51 percent, whites 38 percent.

The study, “Do Judges Vary In Their Treatment of Race?” drew upon a deeper data set of criminal cases and a more complex methodology that eliminated some of the shortcomings of previous research on the racial gap, according to the researchers. The researchers zeroed in on average incarceration rates and sentence lengths imposed by individual judges, said University of Pennsylvania law professor David Abrams, who co-authored the study with University of Chicago economics professor Marianne Bertrand and Harvard University economics professor Sendhil Mullainathan. The researchers found “significant” variation in the average incarceration rates between judges.

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