Research

Working Paper
Chika O. Okafor. Working Paper. “Prosecutor Politics: The Impact of Election Cycles on Criminal Sentencing in the Era of Rising Incarceration”. arXiv PreprintAbstract

 

I investigate how political incentives affect the behavior of district attorneys (DAs).  I compile a new comprehensive dataset on the election cycles and offices sought for all district attorneys in office during the steepest rise in incarceration in U.S. history (roughly 1986–2006). Using quasi-experimental methods, I find evidence that being in a DA election year increases total admissions per capita and total months sentenced per capita. I estimate that the election year effects on admissions are akin to moving 0.85 standard deviations along the distribution of DA behavior within state (e.g., going from the 50th to 80th percentile in the intensity of sentencing activity). I find evidence that election effects are larger (1) in the southern United States, (2) in Republican counties, and (3) when DA elections are contested—consistent with the perspective that political incentives matter. Furthermore, I find evidence that (1) greater levels of pro-White racial bias are associated with more punitive sentencing outcomes for black prisoners throughout the entire election cycle, and (2) in election years both black and white prisoners experience more punitive sentencing outcomes. I also find that district attorney election effects decline over the period 1986–2006, in tandem with U.S. public opinion softening regarding criminal punishment. Together, these findings suggest DA behavior may respond to voter preferences—including racial sentiment and preferences regarding the harshness of the court system.

 

prosecutorpolitics.pdf
Chika O. Okafor. Working Paper. “Social Networks as a Mechanism for Discrimination”. arXiv PreprintAbstract

I study labor markets in which firms hire via referrals. I develop an employment model showing that—despite initial equality in ability, employment, wages, and network structure—minorities receive fewer jobs through referral and lower expected wages, simply because their social group is smaller. This disparity, termed “social network discrimination,” falls outside the dominant economics discrimination models—taste-based and statistical. Social network discrimination can be mitigated by minorities having more social ties or a “stronger-knit” network. I calibrate the model using a nationally-representative U.S. sample and estimate the lower-bound welfare gap caused by social network discrimination at over four percent, disadvantaging black workers.

socialnetworkdiscrimination.pdf
2015
Chika O. Okafor. 2015. “Returning to Eden: Toward a Faith-Based Framing of the Environmental Movement.” Villanova Environmental Law Journal, 26, 215. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This article proposes a major shift in the messaging of the mainstream environmental movement. Instead of relying on logic, the mainstream movement must also cultivate passion. Instead of only appealing to the mind, it must also tap into the heart. Instead of “convincing” people, it must also learn to inspire them. By synthesizing concepts from various academic disciplines, including sociology, economics, history, and theology, this article argues that what inspires people is a moral imperative. The best way for the environmental movement to create the essential moral imperative is through religious justifications.