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December 4, 2007

Local follow-ups to new JPI report on racial disparities

As detailed here, Justice Policy Institute today released a new report that "documents racial disparities in the use of prison for drug offenses in 193 of the 198 counties that reported to government entities."  This report seems likely to get more local media attention than most similar reports because this webpage also provides links to an Interactive Map with associated county fact sheets.  Indeed, I already see these headlines and stories thanks to Google news:

I suspect there will be more of these types of stories in local papers int he days ahead.

December 4, 2007 at 06:26 PM | Permalink


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I can check their numbers for Polk County Iowa and they appear to be correct but I am having problems interpreting their numbers because they made so many simplifying assumptions. I agree that using prison admission data is useful but the data files usually list the only most serious charge that the inmate was convicted on. I happen to also have the original charge they were arrested on and in many cases the charges differ significantly (both up and down in severity). The charge they were convicted on may not be relevant because for the majority of the admissions the admission type is a revocation of probation, parole or work release. If a judge decides that a nonviolent D felony drug offender is not a threat to public safety and puts them on probation and then they repeatedly violate probation and are revoked and admitted to prison. They were not supposed to be in prison but they are there just the same but not because of the drug charge they were convicted on or the original charge whatever that may have been.

In my view concentrating on drug charges only make the comparison between Blacks and White nearly meaningless because there are significant difference between offense profiles (the list of the most frequent offense class-subtypes) for Blacks, Hispanics and Whites.

What I have found is that Blacks with respect to Whites are more likely to be arrested and booked,
they are more likely to be charged with a felony, they are more likely to be detained in jail after initial appearance, they are not as likely to be released after a bond reduction hearing and they are more likely to be sentenced to prison. Of those admitted to prison 22% were Black and in my county of those booked 19% were Black and after initial appearance their percentage increased to 27% and after bond reduction hearing to 36% with no further changes in percentage even for those sent to prison. The Black population augmentation was complete by end of the first week. All of the augmentation is at the county level and they are huge variations from county to county and between judicial districts.

We are dealing with a complex process and oversimplification just confuses people.

Posted by: John Neff | Dec 4, 2007 11:34:54 PM

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