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New Findings in the Economics of Crime and Policing

Paper Session

Sunday, Jan. 7, 2018 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM

Marriott Philadelphia Downtown, Meeting Room 308
Hosted By: American Economic Association
  • Chair: Imran Rasul, University College London

An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force

Roland Fryer Jr.
Harvard University


This paper explores racial differences in police use of force. On non-lethal uses of force, blacks and Hispanics are more than fifty percent more likely to experience some form of force in interactions with police. Adding controls that account for important context and civilian behavior reduces, but cannot fully explain, these disparities. On the most extreme use of force –officer-involved shootings – we find no racial differences in either the raw data or when contextual factors are taken into account. We argue that the patterns in the data are consistent with a model in which police officers are utility maximizers, a fraction of which have a preference for discrimination, who incur relatively high expected costs of officer-involved shootings.

Intergenerational Effects of Incarceration

Gordon Dahl
University of California-San Diego


An often overlooked population in discussions of prison reform is the children of inmates. How a child is affected depends both on what incarceration does to their parent and what they learn from their parent's experience. To overcome endogeneity concerns, we exploit the random assignment of judges who differ in their propensity to send defendants to prison. Using rich longitudinal data for Norway, we find that imprisonment has no effect on fathers’ recidivism but reduces their employment by 20 percentage points. We find no evidence that paternal incarceration affects a child's criminal activity or school performance.

Hispanic-White Sentencing Differentials in the Federal Criminal Justice System

Imran Rasul
University College London


In the Federal criminal justice system, large differences in sentencing outcomes exist between Hispanic and White defendants. A candidate explanation is ingroup bias causing `outsiders' (Hispanics) to be treated differently to `insiders' (Whites). To probe this explanation we exploit 9-11 as an exogenously timed cue heightening the salience of insider-outsider differences in American society. Based on linked administrative data covering 230,000 criminal cases from time of arrest through to sentencing, we use a DiD research design based on defendants all of whom were arrested pre 9-11, but some whose cases were sufficiently far advanced along the system so as to come up for sentencing pre 9-11, while others had only just entered the system pre 9-11, and so were sentenced post 9-11. We document that among those sentenced post 9-11, Hispanic-White judicial sentencing differentials are further exacerbated relative to these sentenced pre 9-11, while Black-White sentencing differentials are unaffected. Our data and research design allows us to further document the differential treatment of Hispanic defendants by prosecutors in pre-sentencing stages of the CJS, such as with regards to the initial offense charges they set. Finally, we collate bibliographical information on judges and document that in districts with a higher proportion of Hispanic judges, the Hispanic-White sentencing differential is significantly reduced, consistent with judges' ingroup biases driving their sentencing decisions. Our results provide insights into the magnitude, channels and potential origins of Hispanic-White sentencing differentials in the Federal criminal justice system.
JEL Classifications
  • K0 - General