Thursday, December 04, 2014

If you think we're post-racial, read the lead article from the November 2014 American Economic Review

Alesina and La Ferrara conclude:

This paper proposes a test for racial bias in capital sentencing in the US over the period 1973-1995. We use the share of judicial errors in rst degree sentencing as an indicator of racial bias of such courts. Using an originally collected dataset, we uncover a bias against minority defendants killing white victims. The bias is present, according to our test, only in Southern States. More precisely, according to our interpretation rst degree courts tend to place less weight on the possibility of condemning an innocent in cases of minority defendants with one or more white victims relative to minority defendants who did not kill whites. The same does not hold for white defendants. This result is not explained by differences in observable characteristics of the crime or of the trial, nor by the ideological orientation of appeal courts.
The paper is really well done. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm have questions about the analysis for what they say is the main result of the paper (page 22-23; table 2). First of all, it's hard to figure out the actual numbers from their table, making it tough to recheck their analyses. As far as I can tell, Table 2a gets translated into [[87/244 , 7/15 ] ; [68/181 , 19/67]] These numbers don't quite work out, but they are close based on their proportions and SEs (of proportions, I assume, not means). First thing to note is that their sample size for white defendant/non-white victim is very small. So their test is quite underpowered compared to the non-white defendant test. This doesn't really matter for their alternative hypothesis. But it does matter if the alternative hypothesis is not-equal instead of greater than. Because the data suggests that white defendants with non-white victims have a higher error rate than white defendants with white victims. This is not-significant in their analysis, but my bet would be on this being a power problem (although perhaps not based on the direct appeal data). In any event perhaps a more appropriate alternative to no-racial bias is that the initial courts are more likely to make capital errors if you victimize someone of a different race category.

- Scott