SCIENCE: Judges Give Harsher Sentences To Black Kids When LSU Loses Football Games

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Judges — at least juvenile judges in Louisiana — who see their beloved college football teams lose in unexpected fashion often take out their frustrations by giving harsher criminal sentences to black kids, according research published this month by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The researchers, Louisiana State University economics professors Naci Mocan and Ozkan Eren, say they examined every criminal defense file for juvenile cases in the state of Louisiana from 1996 to 2012.

The files contained information about the individual juvenile defendants, their offenses and the sentences they received, notes Inside Higher Ed.

The files also recorded the names of the judges who decided each case and tended to cite the academic biography of the judges — where they attended law school and college. (And to the extent the files did not contain such information, such information is presumably easily accessible.)

The economics professors aligned the sentences dispensed by the judges with wins and losses by the Louisiana State University Tigers football team — a 2014 waltz against Sam Houston State, just for example, or an upset beatdown last year at the hands of Arkansas.

When LSU lost an upset game, defendants — specifically black defendants — suffered because judges with bachelor’s degrees from LSU doled out harsher sentences, the researchers say.

“We find that unexpected losses increase disposition (sentence) lengths assigned by judges during the week following the game,” Mocan and Eren conclude in their working paper. “Unexpected wins, or losses that were expected to be close contests ex-ante, have no impact. The effects of these emotional shocks are asymmetrically borne by black defendants.”

In at least one case, a judge sentenced a black juvenile delinquent to 74 additional days of confinement after an LSU loss (compared to sentences given to other offenders for similar crimes by judges who did not attend LSU), the professors say.

The LSU professors contend that black juvenile delinquents have spent an additional 1,332 days in custody — or on probation — because judges were bent out of shape that LSU lost a game it should have won.

Judges “should, by law, be free of personal biases and emotions,” the professors also note. Instead, the judges appear to be subject to “a subtle and previously unnoticed capricious application of sentencing.”

Last weekend, the opening weekend of the 2016 college football season, LSU played Wisconsin at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. LSU was a double-digit favorite to win the game but lost by a score of 16-14.

This weekend, LSU plays Jacksonville State — at home. LSU is again favored to win by a large margin.

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