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Brian Johnson Ph.D.

Brian Johnson, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

Criminology and Criminal Justice
2220K LeFrak Hall
College Park , Maryland 20742
Office Phone: 301-405-4709


  1. 2003, Doctor of Philosophy, Crime, Law, and Justice Program, Department of Sociology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA
  2. Dissertation Title: The Multilevel Contexts of Criminal Sentencing
  3. Dissertation Chair: John H. Kramer
  4. 2000, Master of Arts, Crime, Law, and Justice Program, Department of Sociology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA
  5. Thesis Title: Judicial Discretion and Guideline Departures
  6. Thesis Chair: John H. Kramer
  7. 1997, Bachelor of Arts, Anthropology, Magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, Lawrence University, Appleton, WI


Recent Accomplishments

Johnson’s research examines racial disparities and other social inequities in the criminal justice system. In particular, his work emphasizes the neglected role of social contexts, and the application of advanced statistical and methodological approaches to better estimate these relationships. For example, his 2006 paper published in Criminology, estimates three-level hierarchical models of punishment outcomes across judges and county courts in Pennsylvania. It is the only study to simultaneously model these multiple levels of social influence using multilevel models. Importantly, this study finds that individual punishments vary substantially between judges and between courts. Moreover, the effects of individual offender characteristics, like race and ethnicity, also vary across contexts. Observed racial disparities in punishment are therefore context specific. In related work, Johnson also examines the punishment outcomes of juvenile offenders transferred to adult court and the important role that the prosecutor plays in the criminal sentencing process. This later issue is particularly important given the little empirical work on the issue. Johnson’s first five research papers have all been published in Criminology, the flagship journal in his field, and his latest work examining the appropriate use of Heckman’s correction for selection bias recently received a conditional acceptance at the Journal of Quantitative Criminology.

Funded Research

Johnson received a Seed Grant to conduct preliminary analyses for his pending R03 proposal. This project allowed him to ensure that the necessary data resources are available and amenable to being linked to track individual offenders across stages of the federal justice system. He also worked as a statistical consultant on other external grants.

Future Plans

Johnson has a pending R03 at NICHD to construct a nationally representative data set from the federal justice system that has detailed information on the demographic background of arrestees and follows arrestees from arrest through final judicial outcome. Importantly, this data identifies how similar criminal events are charged by federal prosecutors. This will allow Johnson to assess how racial disparities in sentencing occur. Over the next few years, Johnson’s research will expand in two important directions. First, he will extend his current work beyond the criminal court system to examine social inequities across other stages of the justice system. This includes a focus on disparities in prosecutorial decision making which have received relatively little research attention. It also includes following offenders after their release from prison to investigate the causes and correlates of racial variations in offender recidivism in society. Second, he will pursue his interests in the deleterious consequences of incarceration for offenders, which include negative employment and marriage outcomes as well as a number of negative health outcomes. He is also investing the disruptive effects of increased incarnation on demographic processes such as marriage patterns in the non-incarcerated population.