How Do Judges Decide Whether to Grant or Deny Parole?

In a court of law, justice is supposed to be objective and impartial. But judges are human beings, and are susceptible to the ebb and flow of daily life, both inside and outside the courtroom. To see if there was any discernible pattern to judicial rulings, researchers looked at 1,112 parole board hearings in Israel, presided over by eight different judges during a 10-month period in 2009. What they found was dramatic. The research showed that the likelihood of a favorable ruling peaked at the beginning of the court day, starting at 65 percent and then trailing off to zero. After a break for lunch or a snack, the judges again granted parole around 65 percent of the time, and then increasingly denied petitioners' parole applications as the day wore on.

Here comes the judge:

  • The only other variables that influenced a judge's ruling were the number of times a petitioner had been to jail, and whether he or she had participated in a rehabilitation program.
  • Other factors -- such as the severity of the prisoner's crime, the time he or she had already spent in prison, and the gender or ethnicity of the prisoner -- didn’t seem to have any effect on the rulings, one way or the other.
  • The researchers didn’t draw conclusions about why the judges were so much more lenient in the morning and after lunch and snack breaks, other than to point to “rest, improving mood, or (...) increasing glucose levels in the body.”
More Info: The Guardian

Discussion Comments


Really interesting study. The “rest, improving mood, and especially increasing glucose levels in the body” meant better brain metabolism and function. Therefore the judges were more alert, more attentive and more objective in their decisions. Message: The work hours of judges should be cut by half in order to curtail unfair decisions. Or, frequent snack breaks.

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