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Race & Justice News: Homicide Clearance Disparities Contribute to Capital Punishment Disparities

August 07, 2018
Homicides involving white victims are significantly more likely to be "cleared" by the arrest of a suspect than homicides involving victims of color, causing racial disparities in capital sentencing to begin as early as police investigations. Learn more in Race & Justice News.

Race and Justice News is a monthly electronic newsletter produced by The Sentencing Project. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.

Gentrification Increases Quality-of-Life Complaints in New York City

Gentrification is increasing quality-of-life complaints made in two predominantly Latino New York City areas, Harlem’s West 136th Street and Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood, reports Buzzfeed NewsBuzzfeed analyzed over 17 million calls made to 311—a hotline for city residents to report non-emergency matters—and compared this with historical demographic and economic data from the Census. Research has shown that communities of color, which experience more aggressive policing, are less likely to use 311 to file complaints. As the white population grew on West 136th Street and housing values increased, the number of 311 complaints increased from 130 between 2012 and 2014 to about 3,000 between 2015 and 2017, with most complaints pertaining to noise.

Newcomers explained that they relied on 311 to avoid conflict with neighbors. According to Anthony Posada of the Legal Aid Society’s Community Justice Unit, the uptick in complaints has led to an increase in policing in communities of color. “While not every 311 call results in a visit from the cops,” writes reporter Lam Thuy Vo, “officers from the local precinct do respond when they’re not handling emergencies.”

Racial Disparities in Homicide Clearances Contribute to Disparities in Capital Punishment

Homicides involving white victims are significantly more likely to be “cleared” by the arrest of a suspect than homicides involving victims of color, causing racial disparities in capital sentencing to begin as early as police investigations. In a working paper, “Police, Race, and the Production of Capital Homicides,” Jeffrey Fagan of Columbia Law School and Amanda Geller of the New York University Department of Sociology examined national homicide data from 1976 to 2009. Researchers have previously shown that black defendants are more likely than their white counterparts to be charged with crimes eligible for capital punishment, to be convicted, and to be sentenced to death—and that racial disparities are largest for the small number of cases involving black defendants and white victims.

Fagan and Geller’s analysis concludes that compared to homicides involving white victims, those involving black victims are 23% less likely to be cleared and those involving other victims, mostly Latinos, are 17% less likely. In a Washington Post story exploring similar findings, police pointed to urban residents’ concerns about retaliatory violence while civil rights leader Rev. William Barber stated: “There’s no big rush to solve a case when it’s considered ‘black on black.’ But if it is a black-on-white killing, then everything is done to make an arrest.”

Philadelphia Ends Arrest Database Sharing Contract with ICE

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney announced that the city would not renew a controversial contract that allows federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to access PARS, a key law-enforcement database, reports Operated by the city, PARS is a real-time computer database of arrests and does not collect information on immigration status. But ICE uses the information in PARS to find individuals born outside of the United States, then targets them for further investigation.

The city’s decision comes after months of consultation with community groups, lawyers, immigrant advocates, and after weeks of protests by anti-ICE demonstrators. ICE failed to ease city officials’ concerns about the profiling of residents by race, national origin, or ethnicity. City Solicitor Marcel Pratt wrote that the decision reflects “the principle that our city is safer, healthier, and more inviting” when residents need not be in fear about their immigration status.

Minnesota Programs Seek to Repair Police-Community Relations

Two years after Philando Castile was fatally shot by officer Jeronimo Yanez, new programs and newly elected officials are aiming to assist low-income residents of color and transform how police interact with them, reports the Washington Post. Lights On, created by the nonprofit MicroGrants, allows police officers to issue a $50 voucher so motorists can have minor car equipment problems fixed instead of receiving a ticket. Since its conception in 2017, the 20 participating police departments have handed out 660 vouchers.

St. Paul, the majority-white capital city where Castile grew up, elected its first black mayor last November, Melvin Carter. Carter’s platform included police reform and minority inclusion. Falcon Heights, the predominantly white suburb where Castile was killed, elected Melanie Leehy, the first black council member, and ended its contract with a police department that black motorists accused of racial profiling. Central High School, Castile’s alma mater, created an annual scholarship for a black student in his name. Additionally, a charity paid the lunch fines of children in the St. Paul public schools where Castile was a beloved cafeteria worker.

A Close Look at Sentencing Disparities in Former Florida Prosecutor’s Cases

Even after accounting for the influence of the judges and prosecutors in her district, former Florida assistant state attorney Christine Bustamante’s felony drug cases had one of the highest levels of racial sentencing disparity in Duval County, report the Herald-Tribune and the Florida Times-Union. The newspapers analyzed 3,500 felony drug cases handled by 22 Duval County prosecutors in 2015 and 2016, concluding that Bustamante’s use of discretion combined with the discretion of judges she appeared before, Judges Mark Hulsey III and Russell Healey, were what most impacted sentencing disparities in her cases. 

Bustamante’s 100 felony drug cases in 2015 and 2016 alone resulted in African Americans receiving sentences that were nearly four times as long on average as those imposed on whites. Sentencing disparities in Bustamante’s cases were also partly impacted by her former boss Angela Corey, who was regarded as one of the toughest state attorneys in the nation and was voted out of office in 2016, and by the Jacksonville Sherriff’s Office, which disproportionately arrests African Americans for felony drug crimes.

Increasing Overrepresentation of Indigenous Populations in Canadian Prisons

Although Canada’s incarceration rate has been slowly declining since 2012, a recent report from Statistics Canada reveals an increasing overrepresentation of indigenous people in prison, reports the Washington Post. Indigenous people are 5% of Canada’s population, yet they represented 27% of the prison population in 2016-2017, an increase of 8 percentage points since the previous decade. Indigenous youth comprise 8% of Canada’s youth population but represented 46% percent of all admissions to correctional services in 2016-2017. These disparities are “an artifact of colonial contact” and the result of a “systemic bias built into many of the decision points and many of the process points in our criminal justice system,” says Howard Sapers, an independent adviser to the government of Ontario and the former corrections investigator of Canada.

Nearly Half of Formerly Incarcerated African American Women Unemployed

report by the Prison Policy Initiative finds that 44% of formerly incarcerated black women were unemployed in 2008, reports The Marshall Project. In contrast, only 18% of formerly incarcerated white men were unemployed. Using data from the National Former Prisoner Survey, the report concludes that the unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated individuals was five times higher than the overall U.S. rate.

Eliminating licensing regulations that block people with criminal records from finding employment would help to reduce the unemployment rate for justice-involved individuals. Senator Cory Booker is working on legislation that would remove licensing regulations that bar people with criminal histories from receiving occupational licenses and the Department of Labor is providing funding to states that want to study their licensing laws.

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