Crystal S. Yang

Assistant Professor of Law

Griswold 301

617-496-4477

Assistant: Wendy Moore / 617-496-2865

Biography

Crystal S. Yang is an Assistant Professor at Harvard Law School and a Faculty Research Fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research.  Professor Yang’s teaching and research interests center around empirical law and economics, particularly in the areas of criminal justice and consumer bankruptcy. Her current research includes empirical projects on the effects of the bail system on defendants' short and long-term outcomes, racial bias in the criminal justice system, and the spillover effects of deportation fear. In addition to publications in leading economics journals and law reviews, her work has been featured in the New Yorker, New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, among other media outlets, and has been cited by the U.S. Supreme Court.

From 2014-2015, Professor Yang served as a Special Assistant United States Attorney in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts. Professor Yang graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 2013, where she was a John M. Olin and Terence M. Considine Fellow, and recipient of the John M. Olin Prize. She also received her Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University in 2013 and was a recipient of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. She earned an A.B. in economics summa cum laude and an A.M. in statistics from Harvard University in 2008.

Areas of Interest

Will Dobbie, Jacob Goldin & Crystal S. Yang, The Effects of Pre-Trial Detention on Conviction, Future Crime, and Employment: Evidence from Randomly Assigned Judges, 108 Am. Econ. Rev. 201 (2018).
Categories:
Criminal Law & Procedure
,
Disciplinary Perspectives & Law
Sub-Categories:
Criminal Justice & Law Enforcement
,
Sentencing & Punishment
,
Empirical Legal Studies
Type: Article
Abstract
Over 20 percent of prison and jail inmates in the United States are currently awaiting trial, but little is known about the impact of pre-trial detention on defendants. This paper uses the detention tendencies of quasi-randomly assigned bail judges to estimate the causal effects of pre-trial detention on subsequent defendant outcomes. Using data from administrative court and tax records, we find that being detained before trial significantly increases the probability of a conviction, primarily through an increase in guilty pleas. Pre-trial detention has no detectable effect on future crime, but decreases pre-trial crime and failures to appear in court. We also find suggestive evidence that pre-trial detention decreases formal sector employment and the receipt of employment- and tax-related government benefits. We argue that these results are consistent with (i) pre-trial detention weakening defendants' bargaining position during plea negotiations, and (ii) a criminal conviction lowering defendants' prospects in the formal labor market.
Crystal S. Yang, Resource Constraints and the Criminal Justice System: Evidence From Judicial Vacancies, 8 AEJ: Econ. Pol'y 289 (2016).
Categories:
Criminal Law & Procedure
,
Disciplinary Perspectives & Law
,
Government & Politics
Sub-Categories:
Criminal Prosecution
,
Sentencing & Punishment
,
Empirical Legal Studies
,
Judges & Jurisprudence
Type: Article
Abstract
Ten percent of federal judgeships are currently vacant, yet little is known on the impact of these vacancies on criminal justice outcomes. Using judge deaths and pension eligibility as instruments for vacancies, I find that prosecutors dismiss more cases during vacancies. Prosecuted defendants are more likely to plead guilty and less likely to be incarcerated during vacancies, with defendants who are detained pretrial more likely to be incarcerated. The current rate of vacancies has resulted in 1,000 fewer prison inmates annually compared to a fully-staffed court system, a 1.5 percent decrease.
Crystal S. Yang, Free at Last? Judicial Discretion and Racial Disparities in Federal Sentencing, 44 J. Legal Stud. 75 (2015).
Categories:
Criminal Law & Procedure
,
Government & Politics
,
Disciplinary Perspectives & Law
,
Discrimination & Civil Rights
Sub-Categories:
Sentencing & Punishment
,
Criminal Prosecution
,
Race & Ethnicity
,
Empirical Legal Studies
,
Judges & Jurisprudence
Type: Article
Abstract
The federal sentencing guidelines were created to reduce unwarranted sentencing disparities among similar defendants. This paper explores the impact of increased judicial discretion on racial disparities in sentencing after the guidelines were struck down in United States v. Booker (543 U.S. 220 [2005]). Using data on the universe of federal defendants, I find that black defendants received 2 months more in prison compared with their white counterparts after Booker, a 4 percent increase in average sentence length. To identify the sources of racial disparities, I construct a data set linking judges to defendants. Exploiting the random assignment of cases to judges, I find that racial disparities after Booker were greater among judges appointed after Booker, which suggests acculturation to the guidelines by judges with experience sentencing under a mandatory-guidelines regime. Prosecutors also responded to increased judicial discretion after Booker by charging black defendants with binding mandatory minimum sentences.
Marcella Alsan & Crystal Yang, Fear and the Safety Net: Evidence from Secure Communities (NBER Working Paper No. w24731, June 2018).
Categories:
Discrimination & Civil Rights
,
Family Law
,
Disciplinary Perspectives & Law
,
Government & Politics
Sub-Categories:
Immigration Law
,
Law & Economics
,
Children's Law & Welfare
,
Government Benefits
Type: Other
Abstract
This paper explores the impact of fear on the incomplete take-up of safety net programs in the United States. We exploit changes in deportation fear due to the roll-out and intensity of Secure Communities (SC), an immigration enforcement program that empowers the federal government to check the immigration status of anyone arrested by local police, leading to the forcible removal of approximately 380,000 immigrants. We estimate the spillover effect of SC on the take-up of federal means-tested programs by Hispanic citizens. Though not at personal risk of deportation, Hispanic citizens may fear their participation could expose non-citizens in their network to immigration authorities. We find significant declines in SNAP and ACA enrollment, particularly among mixed-citizenship status households and in areas where deportation fear is highest. The response is muted for Hispanic households residing in sanctuary cities. Our results are most consistent with network effects that perpetuate fear rather than lack of benefit information or stigma.
Alma Cohen & Crystal S. Yang, Judicial Politics and Sentencing Decisions, Am. Econ. J.: Econ. Pol’y (forthcoming 2018).
Categories:
Discrimination & Civil Rights
,
Government & Politics
,
Disciplinary Perspectives & Law
,
Criminal Law & Procedure
Sub-Categories:
Sentencing & Punishment
,
Discrimination
,
Gender & Sexuality
,
Race & Ethnicity
,
Empirical Legal Studies
,
Judges & Jurisprudence
,
Courts
,
Politics & Political Theory
Type: Article
Abstract
Racial and gender disparities are prevalent in the criminal justice system, but the sources of these disparities remain largely unknown. This paper investigates whether judge political affiliation contributes to these disparities using data on over 500,000 federal defendants linked to sentencing judge. Exploiting random case assignment, we find that Republican appointed judges sentence black defendants to 3.0 more months than similar non-blacks and female defendants to 2.1 fewer months than similar males, compared to Democratic appointed judges. Disparities by judge political affiliation cannot be explained by other judge characteristics and grow substantially larger when judges are granted more discretion.
David Arnold, Will Dobbie & Crystal S. Yang, Racial Bias in Bail Decisions, Q.J. Econ. (forthcoming 2018).
Categories:
Criminal Law & Procedure
,
Discrimination & Civil Rights
,
Disciplinary Perspectives & Law
,
Government & Politics
Sub-Categories:
Criminal Justice & Law Enforcement
,
Race & Ethnicity
,
Discrimination
,
Empirical Legal Studies
,
Judges & Jurisprudence
Type: Article
Abstract
This paper develops a new test for identifying racial bias in the context of bail decisions – a high-stakes setting with large disparities between white and black defendants. We motivate our analysis using Becker's (1957) model of racial bias, which predicts that rates of pre-trial misconduct will be identical for marginal white and marginal black defendants if bail judges are racially unbiased. In contrast, marginal white defendants will have a higher probability of misconduct than marginal black defendants if bail judges are racially biased against blacks. To test the model, we develop a new estimator that uses the release tendencies of quasi-randomly assigned bail judges to identify the relevant race-specific misconduct rates. Estimates from Miami and Philadelphia show that bail judges are racially biased against black defendants, with substantially more racial bias among both inexperienced and part-time judges. We also find that both black and white judges are biased against black defendants. We argue that these results are consistent with bail judges making racially biased prediction errors, rather than being racially prejudiced per se.
Crystal S. Yang, Toward an Optimal Bail System, 92 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 1399 (2017).
Categories:
Criminal Law & Procedure
,
Disciplinary Perspectives & Law
,
Discrimination & Civil Rights
Sub-Categories:
Criminal Justice & Law Enforcement
,
Sentencing & Punishment
,
Criminal Prosecution
,
Discrimination
,
Race & Ethnicity
,
Social Welfare Law
,
Law & Public Policy
,
Empirical Legal Studies
Type: Article
Abstract
Few decisions in the criminal justice process are as consequential as the determination of bail. Indeed, recent empirical research finds that pre-trial detention imposes substantial long-term costs on defendants and society. Defendants who are detained before trial are more likely to plead guilty, less likely to be employed, and less likely to access social safety net programs for several years after arrest. Spurred in part by these concerns, critics of the bail system have urged numerous jurisdictions to adopt bail reforms, which have led to growing momentum for a large-scale transformation of the bail system. Yet supporters of the current system counter that pre-trial detention reduces flight and pre-trial crime—recognized benefits to society—by incapacitating defendants. Despite empirical evidence in support of both positions, however, advocates and critics of the current bail system have generally ignored the real trade-offs associated with detention. This Article provides a broad conceptual framework for how policymakers can design a better bail system by weighing both the costs and benefits of pre-trial detention—trade-offs that are historically grounded in law, but often disregarded in practice. I begin by presenting a simple taxonomy of the major categories of costs and benefits that stem from pre-trial detention. Building from this taxonomy, I conduct a partial cost-benefit analysis that incorporates the existing evidence, finding that the current state of pre-trial detention is generating large social losses. Next, I formally present a framework that accounts for heterogeneity in both costs and benefits across defendants, illustrating that detention on the basis of “risk” alone can lead to socially suboptimal outcomes. In the next part of the Article, I present new empirical evidence showing that a cost-benefit framework has the potential to improve accuracy and equity in bail decision-making, where currently bail judges are left to their own heuristics and biases. Using data on criminal defendants and bail judges in two urban jurisdictions, and exploiting variation from the random assignment of cases to judges, I find significant judge differences in pre-trial release rates, the assignment of money bail, and racial gaps in release rates. While there are any number of reasons why judges within the same jurisdiction may vary in their bail decisions, these results indicate that judges may not be all setting bail at the socially optimal level. The conceptual framework developed in this Article also sheds light on the ability of recent bail reforms to increase social welfare. While the empirical evidence is scant, electronic monitoring holds promise as a welfare-enhancing alternative to pre-trial detention. In contrast, application of the conceptual framework cautions against the expanding use of risk-assessment instruments. These instruments, by recommending the detention of high-risk defendants, overlook the possibility that these high-risk defendants may also be “high-harm” such that they are most adversely affected by a stay in jail. Instead, I recommend that jurisdictions develop “net benefit” assessment instruments by predicting both risk and harm for each defendant in order to move closer toward a bail system that maximizes social welfare.
Crystal S. Yang, Does Public Assistance Reduce Recidivism?, 107 Am. Econ. Rev. 551 (2017).
Categories:
Criminal Law & Procedure
,
Government & Politics
,
Discrimination & Civil Rights
Sub-Categories:
Social Welfare Law
,
Poverty Law
,
Government Benefits
Type: Article
Abstract
Under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996, individuals convicted of drug-related felonies were permanently banned from receiving welfare and food stamps. Since then, over 30 states have opted out of the federal ban. In this paper, I estimate the impact of public assistance eligibility on recidivism by exploiting both the adoption of the federal ban and subsequent passage of state laws that lifted the ban. Using administrative prison records on five million offenders and a triple-differences research design, I find that public assistance eligibility for drug offenders reduces one-year recidivism rates by 10 percent.
Will Dobbie, Paul Goldsmith-Pinkham & Crystal S. Yang, Consumer Bankruptcy and Financial Health, 99 Rev. Econ. & Stat. 853 (2017).
Categories:
Disciplinary Perspectives & Law
,
Consumer Finance
Sub-Categories:
Consumer Bankruptcy Law
,
Empirical Legal Studies
Type: Article
Abstract
This paper estimates the effect of Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection on post-filing financial outcomes using a new dataset linking bankruptcy filings to credit bureau records. Our empirical strategy uses the leniency of randomly-assigned judges as an instrument for Chapter 13 protection. Over the first five post-filing years, we find that Chapter 13 protection decreases an index measuring adverse financial events such as civil judgments and repossessions by 0.316 standard deviations, increases the probability of being a homeowner by 13.2 percentage points, and increases credit scores by 14.9 points. Chapter 13 protection has little impact on open unsecured debt, but decreases the amount of debt in collections by $1,315.
Crystal S. Yang, Local Labor Markets and Criminal Recidivism, 147 J. Pub. Econ. 16 (2017).
Categories:
Criminal Law & Procedure
,
Disciplinary Perspectives & Law
Sub-Categories:
Criminal Justice & Law Enforcement
,
Empirical Legal Studies
,
Law & Economics
Type: Article
Abstract
This paper estimates the impact of local labor market conditions on criminal recidivism using rich administrative prison records on over four million offenders released from 43 states between 2000 and 2013. Exploiting each offender’s exact date of release, I find that being released to a county with higher low-skilled employment and higher average low-skilled wages significantly decreases the risk of recidivism. The impact of higher wages on recidivism is larger for both black offenders and first-time offenders, and in sectors that report being more willing to hire ex-offenders. These results are robust to individual and county-level controls, policing and corrections activity, and do not appear to be driven by changes in the composition of released offenders during good or bad economic times.
Crystal S. Yang, Have Interjudge Sentencing Disparities Increased in an Advisory Guidelines Regime? Evidence from Booker, 89 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 1268 (2014).
Categories:
Criminal Law & Procedure
,
Government & Politics
,
Disciplinary Perspectives & Law
Sub-Categories:
Criminal Prosecution
,
Sentencing & Punishment
,
Empirical Legal Studies
,
Judges & Jurisprudence
Type: Article
Abstract
The Federal Sentencing Guidelines were promulgated in response to concerns of widespread disparities in sentencing. After almost two decades of determinate sentencing, the Guidelines were rendered advisory in United States v. Booker. How has greater judicial discretion affected interjudge disparities, or differences in sentencing outcomes that are attributable to the mere happenstance of the sentencing judge assigned? This Article utilizes new data covering almost 400,000 criminal defendants linked to sentencing judges to undertake the first national empirical analysis of interjudge disparities after Booker. The results are striking: Interjudge sentencing disparities have doubled since the Guidelines became advisory. Some of the recent increase in disparities can be attributed to differential sentencing behavior associated with judge demographic characteristics, with Democratic and female judges being more likely to exercise their enhanced discretion after Booker. Newer judges appointed post-Booker also appear less anchored to the Guidelines than judges with experience sentencing under the mandatory Guidelines regime. Disentangling the effects of various actors on sentencing disparities, I find that prosecutorial charging is likely a prominent source of disparities. Rather than charging mandatory minimums uniformly across eligible cases, prosecutors appear to selectively apply mandatory minimums in response to the identity of the sentencing judge, potentially through superseding indictments. Drawing on this empirical evidence, this Article suggests that recent sentencing proposals calling for a reduction in judicial discretion in order to reduce disparities may overlook the substantial contribution of prosecutors.

Education History

Current Courses

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