Hannah Shaffer joined Harvard Law School as an assistant professor of law this past July. Her research uses empirical methods to study how discretion moves through the criminal legal system — from arrest to charging to sentencing to rearrest — and how decision-makers’ beliefs impact their discretionary choices. Her work grapples with the question of how legal systems ought to treat white and Black people who appear the same on paper but whose facial similarity may mask the system’s legacy of discrimination.
Shaffer’s recent research uses administrative court records to examine racial disparities in criminal charging and sentencing — specifically how prosecutors interpret and respond to racial disparities inherited from police and earlier decision-makers in the criminal process. To understand more holistically what drives empirical patterns in the court records, she surveys prosecutors and links their reported beliefs to their real-world decisions. In future work, she plans to explore how racial disparities in individual police officers’ arrests impact downstream charging and sentencing decisions.
Shaffer has several scholarly works that are forthcoming or under review, including “Prosecutors, Race, and the Criminal Pipeline,” forthcoming in the University of Chicago Law Review; “Brokers of Bias: Do Prosecutors Compound or Attenuate Racial Disparities Inherited at Arrest?,” with Emma Harrington; and “Prediction Errors, Incarceration, and Violent Crime,” with Emma Harrington and William Murdock III.
Shaffer joined HLS from the University of Chicago Law School, where she was a Bigelow Fellow. She received a Ph.D. in economics at Harvard University, where she was a Stone Ph.D. Scholar in Inequality and Wealth Concentration, and a J.D. from HLS, where she was a John M. Olin Fellow at the Center for Law, Economics, and Business. From 2019 to 2021, she served as a resident tutor at Lowell House, one of the undergraduate residences at Harvard University. She received her B.A., graduating summa cum laude, from Washington University in St. Louis.
- Hannah Shaffer, Prosecutors, Race, and the Criminal Pipeline, 90U. Chi. L. Rev. 1889 (2023).
- Emma Harrington & Hannah Shaffer, Brokers of Bias in the Criminal System: Do Prosecutors Compound or Attenuate Racial Disparities in Policing? (2022).
- Emma Harrington & Hannah Shaffer, Discerning Discretion: Estimating Prosecutor Effects at Criminal Sentencing (2020).