Allison Harris: “Can Racial Diversity among Judges Affect Sentencing Outcomes?”

Allison Harris
June 28, 2023

Assistant Professor Allison Harris has a new article in American Political Science Review entitled “Can Racial Diversity among Judges Affect Sentencing Outcomes?


How does racial diversity impact institutional outcomes and (in)equality? Discussions about diversity usually focus on how individuals’ identities shape their behavior, but diversity is a group-level characteristic. Scholars must, therefore, consider the relationship between group composition and the individual decisions that shape institutional outcomes. Using felony data from a large U.S. court system, I explore the relationship between racial diversity among the judges comprising a court and individual judges’ decisions. I find that as the percent of Black judges in a courthouse increases white judges are less likely to render incarceration sentences in cases with Black defendants. Increases in racial diversity decrease the Black–white gap in the probability of incarceration by up to 7 percentage points. However, I find no relationship between judge’s racial identities and disparities in their decisions. This study highlights the importance of conceptualizing diversity as a group characteristic and the relationship between institutional context and outcomes.