Racial impact statements are a tool for lawmakers to evaluate potential disparities of proposed legislation prior to adoption and implementation. Analogous to fiscal impact statements, they assist legislators in detecting unforeseen policy ramifications. Policymakers may then be able to modify legislation that would worsen existing racial disparities. Practically speaking, it is important to address a policy’s unwarranted effects before it is adopted, as it is more difficult to reverse sentencing policies once they have been implemented.
In guiding the creation of fair criminal justice policies, racial impact statements may be prepared by a number of agencies, including sentencing commissions, budget and fiscal agencies, and departments of corrections.
Three states – Iowa, Connecticut, and Oregon – have implemented mechanisms for the preparation and consideration of racial impact statements; in addition, the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission develops racial impact statements without statutory guidance. In recent years, legislators in several states have introduced legislation to adopt racial impact statements as well, including Arkansas, Florida, Maryland, Mississippi, Texas, and Wisconsin.
Iowa – During 2008, Iowa passed the nation’s first racial impact statement measure, HF 2393. The law allows policymakers to assess the racial impact of proposed changes to sentencing and parole policies. Signed into law by Governor Chet Culver, the Minority Impact Statement Bill followed a 2007 report by The Sentencing Project. The report had revealed that Iowa had the greatest racial disparity in prison populations among all U.S. states. While African-Americans accounted for only 2% of the state’s population, they made up 24% of the state’s prison population. Leading up to the policy consideration in 2008, the measure garnered media attention.
Connecticut – In 2008, Connecticut became the second state to authorize racial impact statements for proposed criminal justice policies. Bills and amendments concerning pretrial or sentenced populations are now subject to racial impact analysis. A write-up of the measure’s adoption can be found here.
Oregon – Legislators passed SB 463B in 2013, providing a process for formally requesting racial impact statements when considering criminal justice and child welfare legislation. One policymaker from each major political party must submit a written request; after receiving these requests, the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission (OCJC) prepares an analysis of how the legislation may affect different racial and ethnic groups. The measure’s passage earned media attention, and the OCJC recently hosted a presentation for legislative staffers on ways to request racial impact statements.
Minnesota – The Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission routinely drafts racial impact statements but is not required by law to do so. The Commission prepares analyses of the racial implications of sentencing policies on felony level offenses. Advocacy organizations such as the MN Second Chance Coalition have been pushing for this practice to be codified.
In recent years, other states have introduced racial impact statement legislation, but have not yet adopted such policies. Those states are:
Arkansas – The Arkansas legislature considered a 2013 bill that required the creation of racial impact statements for certain bills. SB 1093 would have required a racial impact statement to be prepared for any bill that would create a new criminal offense, change an existing offense, change the penalty for an existing offense, or change the existing sentencing, parole or probation procedures. The measure’s introduction earned media attention during the 2013 legislative cycle.
Florida – HB 237 and SB 336, introduced in 2014, would have required the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) to create a racial and ethnic impact statement for proposed legislation or a proposed amendment to the State Constitution. The OPPAGA would have done so at the request of at least one member of the legislature.
Mississippi – Introduced in early 2014, SB 2561 outlined a procedure for issuing racial impact statements. At the request of one member of each major political party, the Office of Public Safety Planning would have been required to prepare a statement in consultation with the Department of Corrections. These statements could have been requested for proposed legislation and ballot measures that affect the “criminal offender population.”
Wisconsin – Wisconsin policymakers in 2014 considered requiring racial impact statements for all legislation that creates a new crime, modifies an existing crime, or changes the penalty for an existing crime. SB 538 and AB 752called for the Joint Review Committee on Criminal Penalties to prepare a racial impact statement for each bill that fits the above description. The state has the highest racial disparity for incarcerated African American men. The bill’s introduction garnered media attention, and The Sentencing Project issued a statement here.
Resource Materials and Articles
- The Sentencing Project, Fact Sheet on Racial Impact Statements: Brief overview of racial impact statements, including their preparation and implementation.
- Race Forward, “Racial Impact Statements”: Watch Ashley Nellis, Senior Research Analyst at The Sentencing Project, discuss the importance of racial impact statements.
- USA Today, “Should more states require racial impact statements for new laws?”: Summary of states’ efforts to enact racial impact statement rules.
- Marc Mauer, “Racial Impact Statements: Changing Policies to Address Disparities”: An assessment of the development of racial impact policies by the Executive Director of The Sentencing Project.