David Abrams, Roberto Galbiati, Emeric Henry, Arnaud Philippe, 28 November 2019

In the field of criminal justice, there is wide agreement that judges should be both independent and accountable, but little consensus on how to ensure they are both. This column looks at the US state of North Carolina, where judges are elected and forced to rotate between districts. It finds that in the face of electoral incentives, judges behave like politicians in pandering to what they perceive as electors’ preferences, which can result in the unequal treatment of otherwise similar cases.  

Christian Dippel, Michael Poyker, 06 August 2019

The first private prison in the US opened in 1984. Over the next three decades, the imprisoned population increased by 194% while the country’s overall population increased by only 36%. This column examines the relationship between these two events, asking whether the growth of the private prison industry contributed to climbing incarceration rates. It concludes that private prisons moderately increased sentence lengths but not the likelihood of conviction, and finds no evidence that private prisons directly influenced judges or exacerbated existing racial biases in the judicial system.

Christian Dippel, Michael Poyker, 26 June 2019

The US is unusual in that it elects most of its judges. This column uses new data from ten US states to investigate whether those judges change their sentencing pattern when they are due to stand for re-election. The findings reveal evidence of election cycles in sentencing in only four of the ten states. In others, there is anecdotal evidence that professional norms may protect sitting judges from electoral challenge.

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