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April 18, 2024: Olivier Marie (University of Rotterdam)

Minority Salience and Criminal Justice Decisions

with Kyra Hanemaaijer (Erasmus University Rotterdam) and Nadine Ketel (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)

The criminal justice system is multi-staged and features several key agents whose decisions can significantly alter the course of individuals passing through it. These decisions could be influenced by the minority status of the suspects, affecting already under-privileged groups in the population. We use very rich data on all stages in the Dutch criminal justice system (victims, crimes and decisions of all agents involved in trial) and document significant disparities by migration background in judicial decisions across all stages. These disparities cannot be fully explained by controlling for a rich set of (legally) relevant case characteristics. We next exploit a sudden shock in salience of Moroccan migration background, to causally estimate discrimination against suspects with a Moroccan migration background. We find that after the shock, sentencing outcomes for this group significantly worsened, increasing the length of prison sentence by 79 percent.