Science Vs Parole Judges

We hope that while you find today’s information interesting, you never have to personally use it out there in the real world. This is because this week’s Reality Swipe puts us smack bang in the centre of the legal system! Court is in session and the case is Science Vs Parole Judges. Those parole judges should be worried, like always, science has some irrefutable evidence.

Before that, imagine that you are a lawyer and your client is three quarters of the way through his prison sentence. He is up for parole, and has asked you for advice. You spent years working with this client, you know they have seen the error of their ways and are ready to be released in to the community. What advice would you offer to get them through the parole hearing?  We put this to the Reality Swipe team. “Don’t be late”, was the first piece of advice they would offer. Sounds good but as prisoners cannot move around as easy as they want, this one may be a little out of their hands. Another suggestion was to tell them to, “watch their manors” as we all know please and thank you can go a long way. Did you come up with any others?  Did you use common sense tips on good presentation to offer advice to your client like we did? Whilst we are sure these things do contribute, new research into judicial decision show there is one factor that has an overwhelming influence on if a person gets parole.  It has nothing to do with the presentation of the defendant or how they come across to the judge. Worryingly, is it does not even matter on something as important as the details of the case.

What times of the day do you work at your best? Most of my writing is done in the morning just after breakfast.  Writing up until about 11, then I will check the news and see what is new on YouTube until lunch.  After lunch, similar to the morning, I will work for a few hours then pick up some of the less mentally taxing stuff as the day goes on. I am pleased to find out that this pattern of producing a better standard of work after meals is common amongst people in all careers. This wisdom was the starting point for Jonathan Levav, an associate professor at the Columbia Business School, who took this idea and started gathering data. He wanted to see how this style of working affected certain type of professions. Could it affect the profession where making a wrong decision could cost a man his freedom?

What he found was astonishing. A tired judge is much less likely to grant a defendant’s request for parole than one who has just eaten, or taken a break. By examining rulings made by Israeli parole board judges, he saw that prisoners had a 65% success rate if their cases were heard early in the workday or immediately after a judge had eaten. This was compared to parole being granted dropping to almost zero just before a break period, and at the end of the day.

When you listed the advice you would give as a lawyer, unless you advised your client to take in a enough pizza to feed everyone in the room, it statistically wouldn’t off been very good. No advice would have. This research shows that when a judge is tired and hungry he simply will not look into case details and is far more likely to opt for the easier option, denying bail, even when bail would be the appropriate choice. Speaking about the finding Levav said “On the one hand, it confirms our intuition, and on the other hand it’s terrifying.”As more data sets become available, we will see to what extent this effect is at work in other professions. Whist it could expose times where this is beneficial, think  parking warden chooses not to write out the ticket just before their lunch. But if it’s found to be wide spread, it could result in overhaul of the whole justice system.



Jonathan Levav Paper –

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences






The dotted line indicates time spent on lunch breaks

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16 Responses to Science Vs Parole Judges

  1. Johanna says:

    Fascinating. Thanks for liking my blog.

  2. Thank you for liking and even chooosing to follow my blog. I am relieved to see your objective approach to human nature. Religion has advised people to deny our instincts for centuries without much results. Perhaps you wondered about this too and decided to set up this blog?

  3. Terry Gregory says:

    Thats life, get on with it………………..

  4. Mike McGee says:

    I practiced law in North Carolina for more than thirty years. Your comments on parole judges are hilarious to me… and completely accurate, backed by good research. The key elements are first, parole cases are totally repetitious and boring; and second, from the referenced article, the judge has to make a final decision about once every six minutes.

    This parole judge work is tiresome, mind-numbing, uninspiring and tedious. It’s enough to make almost any intelligent person angry and drained after about an hour of ennui: the repetition of all the excuses and grand plans offered by various errant felons who’ve polished their insincere dog-and-pony shows.

    We don’t need to overhaul the whole judicial system. I’ll bet the problem is limited to some degree to judges who have endless six-minute decisions to make. Let’s overhaul the parole system to have the decisions made at a desk by bureaucrats based on documentation. It’s a shame to waste good minds and judicial resources on such an endlessly repetitive and essentially clerical task!

    Over thirty years, I’ve observed judges who handle full-length cases and genuine controversies, and have never noticed any who flagged or lost interest as the day went on. And I’m sure that in some locations, judicial parole decisions are not entirely repetitious and bland.

    So please don’t be too quick to condemn all judges or the judicial system. There is a problem, and you are correct! The problem needs to be solved. Just don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    You are quite a brilliant writer and I can’t wait to read more of your always interesting blogs! Keep up the good work.

  5. L. Marie says:

    Wow, that’s interesting. Guess I’m glad I’ve usually been to traffic court in the morning! and I find that I get more done first thing in the morning and immediately after lunch. I flag around 2–5, then get a second wind around 6 or 7 p.m.

  6. What is really comes down to is the judges are human like the rest of us. We put some people up on pedestal and think that they always do right. But the fact is that everybody makes mistakes when they are tire or hungry. Hell people just don’t care as much when they are tire or hungry (or hot or worried or etc). Yes they should really think about each and every case but again they are just human. Nobody can focus endlessly on a repetitive task.

    So should something be done about this effect? Should parole judges have breaks every hour or two? If they took regular breaks maybe they would grant parole more often thereby reducing their workload over time. It would be interesting to develop an experiment around different break and meal schedules for parole judges.

  7. btg5885 says:

    Very interesting post. So, don’t let the judge postpone until tomorrow or after lunch, is the key. Thanks for following my post. BTG

  8. Very interesting phenomenon backed up by data, Reality Swipe. Important even on a personal level. Thanks for sharing this. Glad that you stopped by my blog – it lead me to yours.

  9. Pingback: Welcome to a new friend: | Reality Swipe | Hey Sweetheart, Get Me Rewrite!

  10. h4rr7h00d says:

    I can see how this would be. I’ve done quite a bit of counseling and would always make sure the person was well fed before beginning a session. You could see the energy sort of melt into nothing if you kept them long enough without letting them go eat again.

  11. Makes sense to me. When I taught, the last period of the day was brutal. Just brutal!

  12. kyrian777 says:

    The Word of the Lord is the answer! Thanks for sharing this post!

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