20
October , 2018
Saturday

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(From The Sentencing Project)

Race & Justice News

In this issue

  • Policing: Protests in Ferguson, MO spur local and federal initiatives
  • Reforms: Georgia’s incarceration rate for African Americans drops 20% in five years
  • Ethnic Disparities: California Latinos face cumulative disadvantage in the criminal justice system
  • Probation: Probation is revoked at higher rates for African Americans

POLICING

Protests in Ferguson, MO spur local and federal initiatives

The fatal shooting in Ferguson, Missouri of Michael Brown, an unarmed African American teenager, by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, has drawn national attention to racial profiling and discriminatory practices by police departments in cities across the country. The New York Times reports that the racial gap between the community and police force in Ferguson characterizes hundreds of other U.S. cities. The Washington Post underscores the role of aggressive municipal court policies—a major source of public revenues—in fueling tensions between citizens and police in St. Louis municipalities.

The racial disparities in Ferguson’s policing outcomes are echoed across the country. In New York City, “broken windows” policing—which focuses on violations like walking in a park after dark, drinking on the street, or spitting—was aimed at African Americans and Hispanics 81% of the time in the last decade, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union. In Connecticut, police pulled over African American and Hispanic drivers at disproportionate rates in the past year, according to a new report from Central Connecticut State University. The same phenomenon has been documented in Nebraska by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The federal government has launched a number of investigations into policing tactics in Ferguson and other cities. The FBI’s investigation into the shooting, separate from the one conducted by local authorities, is being monitored by the Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights Division. A second and more comprehensive federal investigation that began in early September will examine the Ferguson Police Department’s policies and practices in recent years for evidence of a pattern of civil rights violations. DOJ will also collaborate with the St. Louis County Police Department to assess its own practices. In Ferguson, the city council has announced plans to reduce fines by reforming its municipal court procedures, including using alternative sentencing options and creating a Citizen Review Board to monitor the police department. Meanwhile, the DOJ has announced a national review of police tactics nationwide and a study on racial bias in policing in five cities across the country. It is also considering creating a national commission to provide guidance to law enforcement on its interactions with the public.

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Reforms

Georgia’s incarceration rate for African Americans drops 20% in five years

The incarceration rate among African Americans in Georgia has plummeted by 20% in only five years, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The change signals a significant shift in the state’s approach to sentencing and offender treatment. Driven both to cut costs and improve outcomes, Georgia lawmakers have increasingly rejected the tough-on-crime philosophy that once defined the state. Instead, they are adopting public health-based solutions, such as treatment centers for drug-addicted and mentally ill inmates and “accountability courts” that offer alternatives to incarceration for offenders working toward drug-free living and mental health. Georgia’s reforms have improved outcomes for offenders of all races, cutting the state’s overall incarceration rate by 15% since 2009. Though African Americans are still overrepresented in Georgia prisons—making up more than 60% of the state prison population but less than 32% of the overall state population—the decline represents a major shift toward fairer sentencing practices and outcomes.

Ethnic Disparities

California Latinos face cumulative disadvantage in the criminal justice system

A report released by Californians for Safety and Justice documents that Latinos are dramatically overrepresented as crime victims in courts, jails, and prisons.

Latinos in California are murdered at over twice the rate of whites and are more likely to experience multiple crimes. Troublingly, immigration enforcement may deter victims from reporting crimes. In a 2012 survey of several southwestern California counties, 44% of Latinos said they would be hesitant to report being a victim of crime due to fear that the police would ask them or others about their immigration status.

Latinos in California also suffered worse treatment than whites at various stages of the criminal justice process. A 2005 analysis of felony defendants in urban courts found that Latinos were less likely to be released on their own recognizance and, when offered bail, amounts were set approximately $25,000 higher than for whites or African Americans with similar circumstances. The same study found that 51% of Latinos were incarcerated pretrial, compared to 32% of whites. Unequal treatment continues post-trial: a 2004 analysis of rulings in urban courts across the country found that Latinos were 44% more likely to be incarcerated for a property crime conviction than whites, and 53% more likely to be incarcerated for a drug crime conviction.

Based on these findings, the report argues that “current and proposed legislation pertaining to criminal sentences need to be reexamined—for the entire population but specifically as it pertains to impacts on people of color.” The authors recommend Racial Impact Assessments, improving services for Latino survivors of crime, increasing access to quality healthcare, and reducing disparities in arrest and conviction rates. While focusing on Latino-white differences, the report notes that African Americans often experience even greater disparities than Latinos.

Probation

Probation is revoked at higher rates for African Americans

Probation was revoked at higher rates for African Americans than for white and Hispanic probationers in all four jurisdictions examined in a report from the Urban Institute. The study focused on probation outcomes in the late 2000’s in four diverse sites: Dallas County, Iowa’s Sixth Judicial District, Multnomah County, Oregon, and New York City. Racial disparities persisted even after controlling for differences in probationer characteristics such as type of charge, age, marital status, and educational level. The major contributors to this disparity were differences in risk assessment scores and supervision levels—both based primarily on criminal histories—between African American and white probationers. Because criminal histories may reflect disparities in arrests and sentencing practices, giving them weight in revocation decisions may perpetuate and compound front-end disparities in justice system practices. Sentencing guidelines sometimes perpetuated these disparities by limiting the discretion of probation officers.

The report suggests using risk assessment scores to identify probationers in need of additional services to reduce their reoffending, rather than using the scores to target high-risk offenders with additional surveillance that will likely result in probation revocation. Used this way, risk assessments could provide a means of directing greater resources at people of color to improve their success rates on probation.

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