In the latest study detailing the criminal justice system’s failure to deliver equal justice to Americans of varying races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds, judges appointed by Republican presidents were found to give black defendants longer sentences than those appointed by Democrats.
More than 15 years of data on sentences handed out by 1,400 federal judges showed that black defendants are given sentences that are an average of three months longer when a Republican-appointed judge is on the bench, versus a judge nominated by a Democratic president. Female defendants were also served sentences that were two months shorter than those of males who were convicted of similar crimes.
“These differences cannot be explained by other judge characteristics and grow substantially larger when judges are granted more discretion,” wrote Harvard Law School Professors Alma Cohen and Crystal S. Yang. The researchers used data from the Federal Judicial Center, the United States Sentencing Commission, and the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.
The study also found that black judges treated male and female defendants more equally for similar convictions, and that black judges who were appointed by Republicans were slightly less likely to give black defendants harsh sentences.
The study is “an extraordinarily important contribution to our statistical understanding of sentencing decision making in federal courts over the last two decades,” Douglas A. Berman, an criminal sentencing expert at Ohio State University, told the New York Times.
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