Do Private Prisons Affect Criminal Sentencing?

39 Pages Posted: 8 Apr 2019

See all articles by Christian Dippel

Christian Dippel

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - Anderson School of Management

Michael Poyker

Columbia University - Columbia Business School

Date Written: March 2019

Abstract

This paper provides causal evidence of the effect of private prisons on court sentencing, using novel data on private prisons and state trial courts. Our identification strategy uses state-level changes in private-prison capacity and compares changes in sentencing only across court pairs that straddle state borders. We find that the opening of a private prison increases the length of sentences relative to what the crime’s and defendant’s characteristics predict. Effects are concentrated at the margin of sentence length, not of being sent to prison. The effect does not appear to be driven by ‘judicial capture’; instead the evidence is most consistent with the cost savings from private prisons leading judges to pass longer sentences. Private prisons do not appear to accentuate existing racial biases in sentencing decisions.

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Suggested Citation

Dippel, Christian and Poyker, Mikhail, Do Private Prisons Affect Criminal Sentencing? (March 2019). NBER Working Paper No. w25715. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3368005

Christian Dippel (Contact Author)

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - Anderson School of Management ( email )

110 Westwood Plaza
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1481
United States

Mikhail Poyker

Columbia University - Columbia Business School ( email )

3022 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.poykerm.com

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