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October 7, 2007

NYT commentary on race and justice

Though covering well-trod ground, it is still nice to see this New York Times commentary, entitled "Race Gap: Crime vs. Punishment," reflecting on racial disparities in the operation of the criminal justice system.  Here is how it starts:

If criminal legal proceedings seem to turn out differently for people of different races, when does a constitutional problem exist?

Recent events in Jena, La., where protesters have challenged a prosecutor’s decision to file attempted murder charges against six black youths who beat a white schoolmate, have raised the question anew. (The charges were reduced.) 

Last week, the Supreme Court heard arguments over the right of a judge to depart from sentencing guidelines that call for far harsher penalties for crimes involving crack cocaine compared with powdered cocaine. The difference in these guidelines unavoidably involves race since black cocaine users are more likely to use crack, which is a cheaper form of the drug.

“It’s a very key moment,” said Wayne S. McKenzie, director of the prosecution and racial justice program at the Vera Institute of Justice in New York. Because of cases like these, he said, “You have all of these conversations now that are taking place about the disparities in the criminal justice system.”

October 7, 2007 at 11:00 PM | Permalink


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A judge noted that the process is complex because there are so many steps. I have been looking at jail bookings by race and found it is more complex than I had expected. For misdemeanors the B/W booking rate ratio is about one would expect but the list of offenses for Blacks is shorter than that for Whites (about 2/3). The exceptions are driving while barred or suspended where the booking rates are high for both Blacks and Whites but the B/W ratio is rather high.

The situation with respect to felonies is significantly different but in our community there are not that many Blacks or felonies and the B/W ratio depends on the offense type. As a consequence the B/W booking ratio for felonies is not that well determined (it appears to be in the range of 3 to 5).

The Black are about twice as likely to be detained in jail and the B/W ratio for persons held in jail for more than three weeks is larger than the B/W ratio in prison. Some of the long hold detainees are convicted and sentenced to jail and are released after expiration of sentence the others are sent to prison on a new court conviction, a revocation of parole, probation or work release or for some type of return. Persons of all races detained in jail are more likely to be convicted either by plea bargaining or as the result of a trial. It is possible that Blacks are more likely to be incarcerated than placed on probation and there is evidence that suggests that has happened. The problem is that the data quality is very low because the courts are overloaded and resources devoted to record keeping are the first to get cut when funds are tight.

Another factor that is independent of the courts is that the police take a professional interest in parolees and probationers which increases the chances of an arrest for a violation or a new offense. A likely outcome of such an arrest is a revocation or a new court commitment to prison.

Posted by: JSN | Oct 8, 2007 10:01:41 AM

The NY times and its ilk focus so much on the alleged unfairness of the criminal justice system to black people . . . and so little on the fact that so many blacks commit crimes in the first place!

It is time to stop making excuses like "residual racism", "lingering impact of slavery", etc. Black crime is way to high, and the biggest victems are innocent black people. According to the DOJ, in 2005 the Homocide victimization rate for Blacks was 20.6 per 100,000 . . . for Whites it was 3.3 per 100,000. Being killed is a much bigger injustice than going to prison for too long.

Posted by: William Jockusch | Oct 8, 2007 10:48:37 AM

Okay William J,

For arguments sake lets just say African Americans commit more crimes than White people ( which according to other research proves untrue on some crimes)
Compare the crime committed by a Black person against the same crime committed by a White person and you will see that the Black
person's punishment is more severe than that of the white person.(There are many court cases to show this)
This is the racial injustice that people are speaking about. I take it that you are a White man and that is why you hold this position.

Posted by: Rita | Oct 8, 2007 11:57:23 AM

Mr. Jockusch, I don’t believe that any of this scholarship uses the term “residual racism.” So, perhaps you are confusing this article with something you dreamed, especially since the article does not use the term.

Setting aside the continual whining from people that claim to be anti-whining, a lot of this scholarship is helpful because it studies the real procedures that state courts use to deal with the continuous din of low-level crime in most places.

Now, I don’t know if Jockusch and others think that it is wrong to point out for minor crimes, the locality that someone is charged in probably has more to do with the resolution than the race of the defendant or the amount possessed. Some of these differences are due to the experience of local courts in handling this kind of crime. For example, a jurisdiction with a “drug court” that does not enter a conviction against a person that successfully completes a program will code differently that a jurisdiction that enters convictions against people that plead guilty in return for suspended sentences for first offenses. Other jurisdictions simply might not prosecute some offenses. Still others might offer "diversion" or some other way to avoid a conviction. These generally don't code.

Rita, If you could show that very similar felonies in a state are punished differently, that that differences throughout several years and across jurisdictions correlates to be race, I would be interested. For example, perhaps you could show that sentences for “garden variety” armed robberies differ radically by race. But, so far we just have speculation.

Posted by: S.cotus | Oct 8, 2007 2:08:45 PM


(CASE NO. F-05-59639)

Open Letter to D.A. Craig Watkins, members of Dallas County ‘Justice’ and all the Texas State Legislators. My sincerest question is, does no one do an honest and ethical job anymore? I want you all to know that I have just sent the following email to approximately 82,000 people with many more who will see it onsite at www.angelfire.com/crazy4/texas.html.

For over two and a half years, while waiting on justice, Sharif, myself and other concerned individuals have quietly built his case and others on angelfire. No more silence on myself and MTWT’s part. After what you, the D.A.‘s office and other authorities in Dallas County, have done and are still doing with this case we can do no less than make as much noise about all of you and the system you work in as possible. Especially the prosecutors, former court-appointed attorneys John Read and Douglas Schopmeyer and the judge Manny Alvarez who’ve denied Sharif any chance for ever receiving a fair trial in this particular case. What a shameful thing you are doing under the false guise of seeking justice.

Points To Ponder On:

1. $150,000.00 (and counting with a October 29th trial scheduled) in taxpayers money wasted on the knowingly perjured testimony of Cathy Jonette Hawkins, and the overzealous and questionable activities of the former (and now the present) D.A.’s office.

2. The Dallas D.A.’s office is a defendant in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Sharif in the Northern District Court (Case No.3:06-cv-2277). This lawsuit is currently on appeal before the US Court of Appeals-Fifth Circuit, New Orleans, LA (Case No. 07-10382), yet this office is being allowed to proceed to trial and prosecute Sharif despite this “undeniable conflict of interest”.

3. One of Mr. Craig Watkins’ campaign promise was to restore the people’s trust and confidence in the D.A.’s office, but the case of Sharif is evidence that the D.A.’s office hasn’t changed much since the days of Bill Hill’s troubled administration.

4. The former D.A.’s administration colluding with the Sheriff Valdez and staff to cover-up an aggravated assault by jail staff against Sharif, yet at the same time the current D.A.‘s administration has bent over backwards to twist the facts of a questionable “car accident” involving Ms. Hawkins and is prosecuting Sharif for aggravated assault w/deadly weapon: to wit, a car. This is a gross abuse of power at best and malicious prosecution at worst. Furthermore, the case of Sharif clearly illustrates why regardless of the DA’s skin color, the Dallas, Texas criminal justice system remains a national disgrace.

Sumbri Omalua and Bradley Johnson III,

P.S. There is much more to this story, but you readers get the point. The time has come for Dallas D.A. Craig Watkins to step up to the plate and end this charade or forever have this and other stains on justice blemish his record and the integrity of his administration.




Posted by: Making The Walls Transparent | Oct 16, 2007 3:02:01 AM

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