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Women and Men Policymakers: Does the Judge's Gender Affect the Sentencing of Criminal Defendants?

NCJ Number
Social Forces Volume: 77 Issue: 3 Dated: March 1999 Pages: 1163-1196
Darrell Steffensmeier; Chris Hebert
Date Published
March 1999
34 pages
Sentencing decisions of female and male judges in Pennsylvania during 1991-93 were examined to compare whether they imposed similar sentences on criminal defendants and whether they used the same criteria and gave the same weight to characteristics of a case when arriving at a decision.
The data included detailed information on case and judge characteristics, covered a large number of cases, and involved a 39 white female judges and 231 white male judges. The data was also suited to addressing the issue of whether a policymaker's individual characteristics or organizational role have a greater influence on decision making and were relevant to the current debate between minimalist and maximalist opinions of gender differences. Results of analysis using additive and interactive models indicated many similarities and some differences between female and male judges in their sentencing practices. Women judges were somewhat harsher in that they were more likely to incarcerate and impose longer sentences. They also tended toward a more contextualized style in weighing the effects of defendant characteristics and prior record on sentencing outcomes. Notably, they were particularly harsh toward repeat black offenders. Tables, notes, appended tables, and 71 references (Author abstract modified)