Politics in Punishment: the Effect of the State Attorney Election Cycle on Conviction and Sentencing Outcomes in Florida
While a considerable amount of research recognizes a link between politics and criminal justice administration and policy, minimal literature is concerned with the impact of election cycles on punishment outcomes. Recent studies find incarceration is used as a tool for gaining political power. Therefore, the election period, especially when the incumbent faces opposition, could have a substantial effect on sentencing outcomes. Previous research has examined this phenomenon on a national and state level, but has rarely considered local political influences on elections. In this study, we examine the effect of local state attorney elections on punitiveness in punishment decisions, specifically through filing rates, conviction rates, prison admission rates, and average prison sentence lengths. As it is well established that criminal justice sanctions disproportionately affect minorities, we also examine the potential amplification of this disparity during the election cycle. A fixed-effects panel design was used to assess the effect of the State Attorney election periods in Florida and the presence of an electoral opponent on conviction and sentencing outcomes from 1995 to 2010. The results lend partial support to the hypothesis that the election cycle affects criminal justice outcomes.