According to a study just released by two researchers at Louisiana State University, judges across the state of Louisiana tend to sentence young Black boys and girls to longer juvenile sentences after the LSU Tigers lose a football game. Researchers Ozkan Eren, and Naci Mocan, who is the LSU Chair in Economics, studied the sentencing patterns of judges after the football team won or loss, from 1996 to 2012. The researchers found that judges who earned their Bachelors or law degrees from LSU, seem to go through some sort of emotional or psychological shock after their team loses a game that they should have won or narrowly lost.
What’s more troubling is that Black juveniles received longer sentences after unexpected losses. When Mr. Mocan presented his research to people in Baton Rouge, LA, no one was surprised at all. This study shows how much college football dominates life in the South, even for a profession that is suppose to enforce the laws in a fair and just manner. In trying to get people to understand why his findings are so troubling, Naci Mocan said, “For people that are not familiar with college football and the intensity of it, it may come as a surprise. It all comes down to the deep connection of the state and the institution, and the football team. Here, they are indoctrinated in this culture of football.”
The study examined first-time juvenile offenders between the ages of 10 to 17, with the subjects having no criminal history. In the state of Louisiana, juvenile cases are randomly assigned to judges. There were 9,346 unique cases examined, from a total of 207 judges. The average sentence handed down to first-time juvenile offenders was 514 days of either jail time or probation, or a combination of both. The juvenile incarceration rate in Louisiana is 29%, which is higher than the national average. After a loss by the LSU Tigers football team, an adolescent in Louisiana could spend more than one year in jail for disturbing the peace or simple assault. Of all the judges examined, almost 50% of them received their law degree from LSU and another 33% got their Bachelor’s degree from LSU. The study showed that 64% of the juveniles convicted were Black, while 88% of the judges were whites males around the age of 56 and registered with the Democratic Party.
According to the researchers, although the longer sentences are not deliberate, they are directly linked to the college football team. The study clearly stated that, “We find some evidence that Black defendants bear much of the burden of judges’ wrath due to this emotional shock, which hints at a negative predisposition towards Black defendants. This result, coupled with the fact that there are no race-related differences in the disposition length in the absence of judges’ emotional stress, is suggestive of the existence of a subtle, and previously unnoticed, bias in sentencing.” Retired Chief Judge of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court in New Orleans, Calvin Johnson, called the study “crazy.” But he also noted that the conversation about race, football and the Louisiana court systems would not be taking place if there wasn’t a cause for the conversation. Judge Calvin Johnson said, “We all have narrowness. We aren’t immune to that. But when you put on the black dress, you should be able to set aside all of it, especially LSU just losing a football game. It should be on balance and objectivity, so that the person in front of us benefits what we do and society does too.”