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June 2, 2010

Notable data from new EJI report on racial skew of key criminal justice decision-makers

As noted in this prior post, the Equal Justice Initiative have released this big new report on racial discrimination in jury selection.  Though there is much of interest in this new report, sentencing fans know that juries have very little role in sentencing decision-making except in capital cases and in a few jury sentencing states.  Thus, for those most concerned with sentencing law and policy, an especially significant part of the new EJI report is its brief accounting of the lack of minorities in other critical criminal justice decision-making positions. Specifically, consider these data from the EJI report:

While black employment in law enforcement has increased during the last three decades in major metropolitan departments, racial diversity remains virtually nonexistent in some smaller Southern jurisdictions.  In Houston County, Alabama, where the population is 27% African American, the local police department is nearly 94% white.

State and federal prosecutors also are mostly white.  Approximately 98% of district attorneys in states that apply the death penalty are white.  As the chart opposite shows, African Americans are vastly underrepresented among district attorneys in each of the eight Southern states analyzed in this report.  The latest data show no black district attorneys in Arkansas, Florida, or Tennessee.

Data on the racial diversity of the American judiciary reveal that it continues to be overrepresented by whites in both the federal and state courts.  Nationwide, of a total of over 12,000 state and federal judges, approximately 90% are white, even though racial minorities make up more than 25% of the population nationwide.

People of color are most underrepresented in the state courts.  African Americans constitute 12% of the United States population but fewer than 6% of the bench at all state court levels.

Underrepresentation among appellate judges in the states EJI studied is significant.  African Americans comprise 26% of Alabama’s population but none of the state’s 19 appellate judges is black.  According to the American Bar Association’s National Database on Judicial Diversity in State Courts, Alabama has the smallest percentage of black judges statewide of the studied states, followed by Tennessee.

Just 4.2% of lawyers and judges in the United States are African American, which means that, in addition to being arrested, prosecuted, and judged by whites, defendants typically are represented by white lawyers.

That Arkansas, Florida, and Tennessee all have no black district attorneys is especially notable given that all three states have African Americans populations that significantly exceed the national average.  Also, I believe more than half of all prisoners in these three states are black.  Consequently, even if one does not believe there is significant racial discrimination in the administration of criminal justice in these states and elsewhere, these EJI data should leave no doubt that there is significant racial disparity in the administrators of criminal justice in these states and elsewhere.

June 2, 2010 at 10:51 AM | Permalink

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