The title of this post is the title of this new article recently published in the journal Law & Social Inquiry. The article was authored by Kathryne M. Young and Jessica Pearlman and here is its abstract:
One in seven people in prison in the US is serving a life sentence, and most of these people will eventually be eligible for discretionary parole release. Yet parole hearings are notoriously understudied. With only a handful of exceptions, few researchers have considered the ways in which race shapes decision-makers’ perception of parole candidates. We use a data set created from over seven hundred California lifer parole hearing transcripts to examine the factors that predict parole commissioners’ decisions. We find significant racial disparities in outcomes, with Black parole candidates less likely to receive parole grants than white parole candidates, and test two possible indirect mechanisms. First, we find that racial disparity is unassociated with differences in rehabilitative efforts of Black versus white parole candidates, suggesting that differential levels of self-rehabilitation are not responsible for the disparity. Second, we test the hypothesis that racial disparity owes to commissioners’ reliance on other professionals’ determinations: psychological assessments, behavioral judgments, and prosecutors’ recommendations. We find that reliance on these evaluations accounts for a significant portion of the observed racial disparity. These results suggest that inclusion of professional assessments is not race-neutral and may create a veneer of objectivity that masks racial inequality.