Measuring Racial Discrimination in Bail Decisions

86 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2020 Last revised: 9 Sep 2022

See all articles by David Arnold

David Arnold

Princeton University; Princeton University - Department of Economics

Will Dobbie

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Peter Hull

University of Chicago - Becker Friedman Institute for Economics

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: April 2020

Abstract

We develop new quasi-experimental tools to measure disparate impact, regardless of its source, in the context of bail decisions. We show that omitted variables bias in pretrial release rate comparisons can be purged by using the quasi-random assignment of judges to estimate average pretrial misconduct risk by race. We find that two-thirds of the release rate disparity between white and Black defendants in New York City is due to the disparate impact of release decisions. We then develop a hierarchical marginal treatment effect model to study the drivers of disparate impact, finding evidence of both racial bias and statistical discrimination.

Suggested Citation

Arnold, David and Dobbie, Will and Hull, Peter, Measuring Racial Discrimination in Bail Decisions (April 2020). NBER Working Paper No. w26999, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3580557

David Arnold (Contact Author)

Princeton University ( email )

22 Chambers Street
Princeton, NJ 08544-0708
United States

Princeton University - Department of Economics ( email )

Princeton, NJ 08544-1021
United States

Will Dobbie

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Peter Hull

University of Chicago - Becker Friedman Institute for Economics ( email )

Chicago, IL 60637
United States

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