Estimating Prosecutor Skill at Criminal Sentencing


Emma Harrington and Hannah Shaffer. Working Paper. “Estimating Prosecutor Skill at Criminal Sentencing”.


In criminal courts, prosecutors have considerable discretion over defendant’s sentencing, suggesting skilled prosecutors may be able to reduce both incarceration and future crime. Leveraging the quasi-random assignment of low-level felonies in North Carolina Superior Court, we find that prosecutors vary in their effects on both incarceration and re-offense. Since differences across prosecutors in their re-offense effects cannot be fully explained by their incarceration effects, prosecutors vary in their “skill” — the degree to which they selectively incarcerate those defendants most likely to re-offend. Indeed, prosecutors who are one standard deviation above the mean achieve a 2pp (8%) lower rate of re-offense than one would expect given their incarceration effect.


Winner of University of Chicago Law School's Donald M. Ephraim Prize in Law and Economics

Last updated on 11/15/2020