Measuring Racial Discrimination in Bail Decisions

83 Pages Posted: 20 Apr 2020 Last revised: 10 Apr 2021

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 racial discrimination, due to either racial bias or statistical discrimination, in the context of bail decisions. We show that the omitted variables bias in observational release rate comparisons can be purged by using the quasi-random assignment of judges to estimate average race-specific misconduct risk. We find that approximately two-thirds of the average release rate disparity between white and Black defendants in New York City is due to racial discrimination. We then develop a hierarchical marginal treatment effects model to study the drivers of discrimination, finding evidence of both racial bias and statistical discrimination. Outcome-based tests of racial bias therefore omit an important source of racial discrimination in bail decisions, and cannot be used to rule out all possible violations of U.S. anti-discrimination law.

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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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