February 18, 2004

February 18, 2004 | News Releases on Legal Issues

Black Judges Tougher On Black Defendants In PA,. Study Finds

WASHINGTON, FEB. 18, 2004-Black judges in Pennsylvania hand down longer jail terms than white judges and are tougher on black offenders than are white judges, according to a new paper from The Heritage Foundation.

Other researchers have examined the effects on sentencing of the race and/or gender of offenders, of victims, of arresting officers and even of prosecutors. But this study looks at how the race of judges affected the severity of sentences. Minority jurists make up a larger percentage of judges now than ever before, yet their effect on the administration of justice has not been examined carefully.

Heritage crime expert David Muhlhausen says the data can't be applied to other states because Pennsylvania's sentencing guidelines allow judges more freedom to depart from recommended sentences than most other states' guidelines. But he found the facts contradict conventional wisdom, which assumes that black judges would go easier on black offenders and that white judges would be harsher on black offenders.

Muhlhausen analyzed sentencing data from the Keystone State at the behest of the York Daily Record newspaper, whose editors wanted to know what effect the race of judges had on sentencing. On sentences that involved incarceration, black judges gravitated toward the tough end of the Pennsylvania sentencing guidelines and beyond, Muhlhausen said. White judges, he found, were more likely to be within and even slightly to the more lenient side of the sentencing guidelines, even on black offenders. And he found no evidence white judges are more or less severe on black offenders than on white offenders.

"This trend may stem from higher victimization rates in the black community," Muhlhausen said. "Or it may be simply that black judges are more sensitive to the plights of the victims."

About the Author