Public Release: 

Gender and ethnicity affect court rulings and prison terms

University of Haifa

New research in the Department of Sociology at the University of Haifa found that the gender and ethnicity of judges, defendants and victims effect court rulings and prison terms. A Jew who is found guilty of attacking an Arab has a 14% chance of receiving a prison term if an Arab judge presides over the case. In the opposite case, but also heard by an Arab judge, if an Arab is convicted of attacking a Jew, he has a 77% chance of being sent to jail. Female judges send 94% of guilty defendants to jail while male judges send 84% to jail.

The research, which was conducted at the Center for the Study of Crime, Law and Society at the University of Haifa by Dr. Hagit Turjeman, under the direction of Prof. Gideon Fishman and Prof. Arye Rattner, examined 1200 cases of violence that were heard in the district courts in Haifa and Nazareth between the years of 1985 and 1999. Cases that were related to terror attacks were not included in the study. The judicial process was examined to see if the gender or ethnicity of the defendant, judge or victim affects the court ruling or punishment. The cases evaluated were grouped according to severity of the crime and criminal history of the defendant.

On a positive note, the study revealed that gender and ethnicity do not affect the probability of conviction of a crime. However, in cases where a defendant was found guilty, consistent differences were found in the sentences given by male and female and Jewish and Arab judges.

In cases with a Jewish judge presiding, if the defendant is Jewish and has no criminal past, he has a 39% chance of being sentenced to serve time in jail. An Arab defendant with no criminal past has a 51% chance of finding himself behind bars. The identity of the victim plays no significant role in the sentencing of such cases. In general, Jewish judges evaluated in the study sentenced Arabs to longer prison sentences than Jews convicted of the same crime.

The research shows that in courtrooms with an Arab judge presiding, the identity of the victim plays as much a role in the sentence as the identity of the criminal. A Jew with no criminal history who is convicted of a violent act against an Arab has a 14% chance of being sentenced to prison term. An Arab convicted of the same crime has a 46% chance of serving prison term. If the victim is Jewish, the chances of a jail sentence are only 40% for a Jewish perpetrator but 77% for an Arab. However, when an Arab judge does send a Jewish criminal to prison, the sentence is generally longer than for an Arab criminal.

Gender also plays a role in court rulings. Due to the relatively small number of female perpetrators of violent crime, Dr. Turjeman examined gender difference among judges in cases where the defendant was a man and the victims were either man or a woman. If the defendant was convicted of attacking a man, the chances of being sentences to jail by a female judge were 94% and only 84% by a male judge. If the victim was a woman, female judges sent 92% of the perpetrators to prison and male judges sent 70%. The gender of the crime victim had no effect on the length of the prison term, but the study found that male judges gave longer sentences than female judges to all of the criminals they sent to prison.

Explaining the research results, Dr. Turjeman said, "The results of the research indicate a complicated system in which personal traits influence the judicial process. The ethnicity and gender of everyone involved in the process play a role in the decisions and severity of the penalties meted out. These results demonstrate a need to examine the existent balance of power between minority and majority groups as reflected by the relations between Jews and Arabs in Israeli society and the sensitive position of Arab judges which on the one hand are part of the country's Arab minority, while on the other hand as judges they represent the rule of law set by the majority."

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