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Do Black Judges Make a Difference?

Susan Welch, Michael Combs and John Gruhl
American Journal of Political Science
Vol. 32, No. 1 (Feb., 1988), pp. 126-136
DOI: 10.2307/2111313
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2111313
Page Count: 11
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Do Black Judges Make a Difference?
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Abstract

Previous examinations of the sentencing behavior of black and white trial judges 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. Analysis of the decisions to incarcerate made by black and white trial judges in a large northeastern community reveal 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.

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