Northwestern Events Calendar


Economic History Lunch Seminar

When: Friday, October 21, 2022
12:00 PM - 1:30 PM CT

Where: Kellogg Global Hub, 3301, 2211 Campus Drive, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: Mariya Acherkan  

Group: Department of Economics: Economic History Lunch Seminar

Category: Academic


Blair Long (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee): Extralegal Determinants of Criminal Sentencing: The Case of British Columbia, 1864-1913


Abstract: What factors determine criminal sentences? While legal factors such as crime and criminal history should affect punishment, judges may also incorporate extralegal factors when handing down sentences. In this paper, we study the role that extralegal determinants played in the sentencing of criminals in British Columbia (BC) between 1864 and 1913. Using prison admissions data, we document the sentencing behaviour of judges and find more leniency towards women, Indigenous, and Chinese individuals. We find harsher sentences for the lowest and highest social classes. Over time, we find that these biases shifted, concurrent with significant historical events. A sentiment analysis of historical BC newspapers shows that public sentiment mirrored this pattern. We conduct tests to distinguish between taste-based and statistical bias. First, we estimate prisoners' predicted future recidivism and incorporate this into our main specification. We find that statistical bias is present but small in comparison to the extralegal bias we initially observe. We next augment Becker's (1968) model of punishment to incorporate both channels of bias. We use the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway in BC as an exogenous decrease in the incentives for crime to test for the presence of statistical bias. In this case, we detect substantial statistical bias favouring domestic and European workers. Chinese workers, however, see no change in their sentences during the building of the CPR, which we attribute to judicial tastes. 

Add to Calendar

Add Event To My Group:

Please sign-in