2018 Harvard Study: Republican Judges Sentence Blacks Longer


2018 Harvard Study: Republican Judges Sentence Blacks Longer

2018 Harvard Study: Republican Judges Sentence Blacks Longer

One of the most troubling features of the American criminal justice system is the disproportionate involvement of members of minority groups at every stage of the justice process. Although no data supports the claim that African-American men, in particular, are more suspicious, violent, and dangerous, they remain overrepresented and are more at risk in the U.S. of being given harsher sentences.

2018 Harvard Study: Republican Judges Sentence Blacks Longer

Historically, the criminal justice system has functioned as an instrument of racism and oppression through legislation and the practices of the police, court, and correctional systems. The disparity of involvement within the criminal justice system exists at all stages of the process. This racial disparity in sentencing decisions contributes to the fact that black defendants comprise a disproportionate fraction of the prison population relative to their proportion in the overall population.1) (Carson and Sabol 2012).  Professors at Harvard Law School, Alma Cohen and Crystal S. Yang, examined the sentencing practices of about 1,400 federal trial judges over more than 15 years. They relied on information from the Federal Judicial Center, the United States Sentencing Commission and the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University and found that Republican-appointed judges give substantially longer prison sentences to black offenders versus observably similar non-black offenders, compared to Democratic-appointed judges within the same district court. The racial gap by political affiliation is 3.0 months, approximately 65 percent of the baseline racial sentence gap.2) Judicial Politics and Sentencing Decisions by Alma Cohen and Crystal S. Yang (May 7, 2018) at pg. 2

Republican-appointed judges also sentence black defendants more harshly relative to Democratic-appointed judges compared to non-black defendants, when the coefficients from Table 4 are expressed relative to race-specific baselines.3)Ibid. at pg. 13. Relative to the unconditional mean sentence for black defendants (79 months), Republican-appointed judges sentence black defendants to 6.6 percent longer sentences compared to Democratic-appointed judges.4)Ibid.

Evidence from the study demonstrated that other judge characteristics impact more racial gaps in sentencing. For example, black Republican-appointed judges exhibit smaller racial disparities than other Republican-appointed judges, with the effect largely offsetting the main racial gap by judge political affiliation.5)Ibid.

2018 Harvard Study: Republican Judges Sentence Blacks Longer

Consistent with prior research from Harvard, they found that mandatory minimums, including binding mandatory minimums, are more likely to apply at sentencing against observably similar black defendants compared to nonblack defendants. In contrast, prosecutors are significantly less likely to offer substantial assistance motions to black defendants relative to non-black defendants.6)Ibid. at pg. 18. There are two common explanations for this racial disparity in left-of-center thought. The first holds that mass incarceration primarily exists to manage black people as black people, a racist system that developed following the end of formal Jim Crow laws and the successes of the civil rights movement. Michelle Alexander offers this view in her widely acclaimed book The New Jim Crow. 7) Alexander, M. (2012). The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York: The New York Press. (1) http://newjimcrow.com/ (2) Mass Incarceration: New Jim Crow, Class War, or Both? by Nathaniel Lewis. 

FURTHER READINGS:

References   [ + ]

1. (Carson and Sabol 2012).
2. Judicial Politics and Sentencing Decisions by Alma Cohen and Crystal S. Yang (May 7, 2018) at pg. 2
3. Ibid. at pg. 13.
4, 5. Ibid.
6. Ibid. at pg. 18.
7. Alexander, M. (2012). The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York: The New York Press. (1) http://newjimcrow.com/ (2) Mass Incarceration: New Jim Crow, Class War, or Both? by Nathaniel Lewis.

About Quianna Canada

Quianna Canada is an anti-police brutality activist, author, and opinion writer living in the United States.
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