NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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Michael Poyker

Columbia Business School
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New York, NY 10027
Tel: 310-904-8978

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Institutional Affiliation: Columbia University

NBER Working Papers and Publications

March 2019How Common are Electoral Cycles in Criminal Sentencing?
with Christian Dippel: w25716
Existing empirical evidence suggests a pervasive pattern of electoral cycles in criminal sentencing in the U.S.: judges appear to pass more punitive sentences when they are up for re-election, consistent with models of signaling where voters have more punitive preferences than judges. However, this pervasive evidence comes from only three states. Combining the existing evidence with data we collected from eight additional states, we are able to reproduce previous results, but find electoral cycles in only one of the eight additional states. Sentencing cycles appear to be the exception rather than the norm. We find that their existence hinges on the level of competition in judicial elections, which varies considerably across states.
Do Private Prisons Affect Criminal Sentencing?
with Christian Dippel: w25715
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 racia...
 
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