Do You Receive a Lighter Prison Sentence Because You are a Woman or a White? An Economic Analysis of Federal Criminal Sentencing Guidelines

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IZA Seminar

Place: Schaumburg-Lippe-Str. 9, 53113 Bonn

Date: 05.10.2010, 12:15 - 13:30


Presentation by 

Ronald L. Oaxaca (University of Arizona)


The Federal criminal sentencing guidelines struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 intended that individuals who commit the same crime and have the same prior criminal record receive equal sentences. Using data obtained from the United States Sentencing Commissionís records, we examine the extent to which the sentencing guidelines curbed judicial sentencing preferences based on gender and race. Our utility maximization model of judicial sentencing preferences leads to a partially censored Tobit model in order to account for the frequent outcomes of no prison time, guideline limits, and departures from guideline sentencing thresholds. A new decomposition methodology is employed. Our results indicate that white women and white men receive more lenient sentences even after controlling for circumstances such as the severity of the offense and past criminal history. In the absence of the sentencing guidelines, the gender sentencing gap would be little changed but the racial gap would actually shrink.

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