Legal and Extralegal Origins of Sentencing Disparities: Evidence from Russia's Criminal Courts

27 Pages Posted: 11 Jul 2015 Last revised: 17 Jul 2016

See all articles by Vadim Volkov

Vadim Volkov

European University at St. Petersburg (EUSP)

Date Written: October 22, 2015


This paper conducts the first analysis of sentencing disparities related to social characteristics of offenders in Russia. It uses the dataset of sentencing decisions consisting of over 5 million observations representing the entire population of defendants between 2009 and 2013. The analysis focuses on all felony cases processed by Federal district courts (2,905,608 individuals)and estimates sentencing disparities (decisions to imprison and sentence length) related to general social status characteristics of offenders as well as to finer occupational differences. The Russian Criminal Code prescribes that judges should account for the personality of the defendant and his or her family condition, but does not specify how this should be done in practice. Controlling for major legal characteristics of offence and offender as well as for judge-level variation, the analysis shows sentencing disparities connected with gender, unemployment, citizenship, local residence, marital status, and occupational status of defendants. Disparities are explained with reference to different origins. Thus, a more severe punishment of law enforcement employees for premeditated crimes corresponds to the legal rule; a harsher treatment of the unemployed and a more lenient sentencing of married defendants are interpreted with reference to legitimate concerns about repeated offending. Extralegal bias is manifested in the more severe punishment of private entrepreneurs and softer punishment of college students. Sentencing disparities are also estimated at different values of sentence length.

Keywords: Sentencing disparities, social status, sentencing rules

JEL Classification: K42

Suggested Citation

Volkov, Vadim, Legal and Extralegal Origins of Sentencing Disparities: Evidence from Russia's Criminal Courts (October 22, 2015). Available at SSRN: or

Vadim Volkov (Contact Author)

European University at St. Petersburg (EUSP) ( email )

3 Gagarinskaya Street
St. Petersburg, 191187

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