The US criminal justice system is exceptionally punitive. We test whether racial heterogeneity is one cause, exploiting cross-jurisdiction variation in punishment severity in four Southern states. We estimate the causal effect of jurisdiction on arrest outcomes using a fixed effects model that incorporates extensive charge and defendant controls. We validate our estimates using defendants charged in multiple jurisdictions. Consistent with a model of ingroup bias in electorate preferences, the relationship between local severity and Black population share follows an inverted U-shape. Within states, defendants are 27–54 percent more likely to be incarcerated in "peak" heterogeneous jurisdictions than in homogeneous jurisdictions. We estimate that confinement rates and race-based confinement rate gaps would fall by 15 percent if all jurisdictions adopted the severity of homogeneous jurisdictions within their state.
Feigenberg, Benjamin, and Conrad Miller.
"Racial Divisions and Criminal Justice: Evidence from Southern State Courts."
American Economic Journal: Economic Policy,
State and Local Government: Other Expenditure Categories
Economics of Minorities, Races, Indigenous Peoples, and Immigrants; Non-labor Discrimination
Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law