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Do Black Judges Make A Difference?

NCJ Number
111290
Author(s)
M Combs, J Gruhl, S Welch
Date Published
January 1988
Length
11 pages
Annotation
This article assesses the differences of sentencing behavior between black and white trial judges.
Abstract
Previous examinations failed to take into account the prior record of the defendant; did not examine the decision to incarcerate, perhaps the most important decision in sentencing a felony defendant; and omitted controls for other salient characteristics of the judge. A study, based on a sample of 3,418 male defendants convicted of a felony between 1968 and 1979, was conducted in a large northeastern city. Decision made by 10 black judges and 130 white ones were analyzed. An analysis of the decision to incarcerate reveals that black judges are more evenhanded in their treatment of black and white defendants than are white judges, who tend to treat white defendants somewhat more leniently. In overall sentence severity, where little racial discrimination has been found, white judges treat black and white defendants equally severely, while black judges treat black defendants somewhat more leniently than white defendants. While the impact of black judges is, therefore, somewhat mixed, in the crucial decision to incarcerate, having more black judges increases equality of treatment. 1 table and 30 references. (Author abstract modified)

Date Created: December 30, 1988