Sentencing Length Disparities: Assessing Why Race and Gender Influence Judges’ Decisions

Graduation Year


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

Jennifer Groscup

Reader 2

Jennifer Ma

Rights Information

© 2018 Janna K Akers


The purpose of this study is to assess why the race and gender of defendants influence judges’ decisions using the focal concern theory. This study will require around 84 participants. Participants will be federal judges who will be recruited via email. In an online survey, participants will be randomly assigned to one of four conditions . Participants will all read a vignette which an individual was convicted for in trafficking of Xanax. The vignette will be manipulated by the name and accompanying a mugshot based on the race (Black/White) and gender (male/female) of the defendant. The expected result is that there will be a significant effect on sentencing time based on race and gender due to perceived offender characteristics (perceived culpability, perceived aggression). The judges’ prejudice (sexism, racism, and feelings of paternalism toward the defendant) will also have a significant effect on sentencing length. With more research about judges’ perceptions and biases, reforms can be implicated to reduce sentencing disparity and to make the legal system more fair.

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