According to new research from Georgia State University, judges tend to impose shorter sentences in hypothetical trials when they are aware of the full hurtful and social effects of incarceration.
The study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, included 87 Minnesota state judges with at least six months of experience on the bench.
For the researchers, the primary purpose of the study was to examine the effect of cost information on sentencing decisions made by judges for potential future prison inmates.
The judges were given a case involving aggravated robbery and then divided into two groups: one with only details of the crime, and the other with information about the negative social and financial consequences of incarceration.
“Previous research finds that both laypeople and prosecutors discount the costs of incarceration when forming sentencing attitudes, raising important questions about whether professional judges show the same bias during sentencing,” the study’s authors explained in their study.
“We used a vignette-based experiment in which Minnesota state judges reviewed a case summary about an aggravated robbery and imposed a hypothetical sentence.”
What researchers concluded: “As predicted, our results revealed a mitigating effect of cost exposure on prison sentence term lengths. Critically, these findings support the conclusion that policies that increase transparency in sentencing costs could reduce sentence lengths, which has important economic and social ramifications.”