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Punishing the Poor in Los Angeles
Of the $194 million in nonrefundable bail bond deposits paid between 2012 and 2016 to the City of Los Angeles, Latinos paid $92 million, African Americans paid $41 million, and whites paid $38 million, according to a new study by researchers at UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies. Residents of communities with the highest unemployment rates were levied the largest sums of bail. Study co-author Isaac Bryan said these facts illustrate how the justice system “routinely reacts more punitively towards poverty than affluence,” according to The Crime Report.
The Bunche Center study notes that during this period, 70% of the money bail amount levied by the courts was not paid during LAPD booking proceedings, leaving over 220,000 cases in which people were incarcerated in the LA County Jail prior to their arraignment. Last October, a study backed by California’s chief justice recommended that the state abolish money bail and state lawmakers have pledged, with Governor Jerry Brown’s support, to reform the system.
Declining Racial Disparity in U.S. Prisons
Racial disparities in the United States prison system have been declining for the last 15 years, according to a recent analysis published in the Washington Post by The Marshall Project’s Eli Hager. Data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics reveal that between 2000 and 2015, black men’s imprisonment rate dropped by more than 24% while the rate for white men slightly increased. The trend is even more pronounced among women, as noted in a report by The Sentencing Project. During this period, the black female imprisonment rate dropped by nearly 50% while the white female rate rose by 53%. Similar patterns appear to hold for local jails. While the number of Latinos in prisons and jails has increased during this period, their rate of incarceration has remained steady or fallen due to the growing overall Latino population.
Hager offers four possible explanations for the decrease in racial disparity: 1) African Americans have disproportionately benefited from the overall reduction in crime, arrests, and incarceration; 2) The War on Drugs has shifted its focus from crack and marijuana to meth and opioids which predominantly impact white Americans; 3) Whites’ declining socioeconomic prospects have led to more crimes of poverty, and; 4) Criminal justice reform is happening disproportionately in cities rather than rural areas.
Racially Disparate Felony Drug Sentences in Florida
Though blacks represent 17% of Florida’s population they have accounted for 46% of the state’s felony drug convictions since 2004, reports the Sarasota Herald-Tribunein a four-part series. Black Floridians get two-thirds more time behind bars for drug crimes than whites, and these disparities persist even after accounting for prior records and severity of crimes. The disparity stems in part from drug-free zone laws that blanket urban communities of color, increasing penalties for carrying drugs near churches, parks, and public housing.
The reporters highlight the disparities in Bradford County, population 27,000, where top prosecutor Luis Bustamante has been more likely to drop drug-free zone enhancements and mandatory minimum charges and to offer pretrial diversion for white defendants. Denying racial bias, Bustamante stated, “There are some families that have some bad kids—they come from both black and white families,” adding: “I’m Latin. Looking at races is not something we do.”
Multnomah County Employee Fired for Unauthorized Sharing of Racial Disparity Data
The Portland Mercury reports that Amanda Lamb, a county employee, was fired for giving a presentation titled “Racial and Ethnic Disparity in Criminal Justice—Measurement, Monitoring, and Accountability” at last October’s Tableau Conference, a large software conference in Las Vegas. In her well-received 53-minute presentation, Lamb described disparities in the county’s criminal justice system, unveiled its criminal justice “racial and ethnic disparity dashboard,” and referenced some officials’ reticence to share data.
Judges, Multnomah County Prosecutor Rod Underhill, and other officials “were concerned that Lamb had shared their data without permission, contrary to county rules, and portrayed them as reluctant to make the findings public.” Some officials also questioned her analysis and painted her conclusions as misleading. A county spokesperson underscored that Lamb was fired for the unauthorized disclosure of information, adding: “We have never shied away from discussing disparities in Multnomah County.”
Black Women Struggle to Meet Rigid Employment Requirements After Incarceration
The nature of parole and probation’s employment requirements interfere with formerly incarcerated black women’s re-entry, according to Susila Gurusami’s article in Gender & Society, featured in the Whittier Daily News. In “Working for Redemption: Formerly Incarcerated Black Women and Punishment in the Labor Market,” Gurusami recounts the time she spent as a researcher in a South Los Angeles re-entry home for formerly incarcerated women, attending court hearings and helping with job applications.
Her analysis reveals that parole agents threatened the women with re-incarceration if they did not find full-time work with health benefits, but provided little assistance and discouraged them from pursuing educational goals. They also objected to women generating income by braiding hair or working in a strip club because these jobs were considered unconventional or non-redemptive, respectively. Gurusami concludes that this set of expectations “sets up formerly incarcerated black women for failure under the gaze of the state.”
Kansas Has Not Confirmed Any Racial Profiling Complaints in Five Years
Law enforcement agencies in Kansas have not substantiated any of the 592 racial profiling complaints filed over the past five years, the Kansas City Star reports. Moreover, the Attorney General’s office does not analyze the reports that it receives from local law enforcement agencies and no longer investigates any complaints.
The Star also finds that despite Kansas passing two laws addressing racial profiling, the state’s system of tracking these complaints is “ineffective, opaque and deeply flawed—from incomplete data collection to redacted records to agencies simply not participating.” In one example of an unsubstantiated complaint, a mother whose two sons were handcuffed and searched after a traffic violation complained: “‘They searched my 11 year old as if he were a grown man…The only reason my children were treated as so is because WE ARE BLACK!!'”
Neighborhood Racial Composition, Not Crime Rate, Driving Philadelphia’s Stop and Frisks
Residents of Philadelphia’s predominantly black neighborhoods are disproportionately impacted by the Philadelphia Police Department’s stop-and-frisk practices regardless of their neighborhood’s crime rate, according to Lace Hannon’s analysis in Race and Justice. The study, titled “An Exploratory Multilevel Analysis of Pedestrian Frisks in Philadelphia,” analyzed 350,000 pedestrian stops with over 45,000 frisks between 2014 and 2015. “Despite the fact that predominantly Black areas saw nearly 70% more frisks than non-Black areas,” Hannon notes, “the absolute amount of contraband recovered from frisks was actually greater in non-Black places where frisks appeared to be conducted more selectively.”
A spokesman for Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney told Philly.com that they city is addressing the issue through implicit bias training and progressive discipline for police officers who make bad stops, and noted recent progress. Hannon’s study concludes by stating that while New York City, which has half of Philadelphia’s violent crime rate, reduced its reliance on stop and frisk following high-profile litigation, the consent decree approach in Philadelphia “may ultimately slow progress in reforming police practices relative to more adversarial court battles (which tend to receive considerable press coverage).”