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Race & Justice News: White Supremacists in Law Enforcement, Germany’s Approach

January 27, 2021
  German responses to far-right extremism in law enforcement are more robust than the U.S., over half of people stopped by Portland Police Gun Violence Team were Black, racial bias impacts risk assessments for Canada's Indigenous Women, and more in Race and 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.

Policing

Over Half of People Stopped by Portland Police Gun Violence Team Were Black 

The Portland Police Bureau’s (PPB) Gun Violence Reduction Team disproportionately stopped, searched, and arrested African Americans in 2019, Oregon Live reports from a PPB report. African Americans accounted for 52% of this unit’s 1,600 stops citywide, in a city that is 6% African American. Officers found contraband more frequently when they searched white rather than Black residents. The PPB noted that 80% of the team’s stops took place within a quarter-mile of a shooting. This unit was disbanded by the Portland City Council in June, amongst calls for police reform following the Minneapolis police department’s killing of George Floyd.

Data from another PPB report showed that Black residents were more likely to be stopped than whites. African Americans made up 22% of non-traffic officer’s stops and 11% of traffic officer’s stops. Searched African American drivers were less likely to possess contraband than searched white drivers. Along with the release of reports on stops, PPB noted plans to improve data collection by adding reasons for stops in future reports, a move that has been repeatedly requested by community groups and advocates such as the Committee for Community-Engaged Policing.

Parole

Racial Disparities in NY Parole Widening Despite Increased Diversity on Parole Board

Whites in New York prisons are significantly more likely to be released on parole than Blacks and Latinxs and that gap is widening, according to the Times Union. An investigation of 19,000 discretionary parole hearings from October 2018 to October 2020 found that 41% of whites were granted parole, compared to 34% of African Americans and 33% of Latinxs. These figures suggest that the state’s diversification of the parole board has failed to address parole disparities first uncovered by the New York Times in 2016. If Blacks and Latinxs were paroled at the rate of whites, an additional 675 people would have been released from prison.

The disparity in parole outcomes is driven in part by people of color being more likely to face discipline behind bars, especially in prisons with largely white staffing. Though Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered an investigation into racial disparities in parole and discipline behind bars four years ago, the state has yet to release a report detailing its findings. New York activists are currently pursuing legislative reform to ensure more equitable parole hearings such as the Elder Parole bill and Fair and Timely Parole Act, which would expand parole opportunities for older people in prison.

Risk Assessments

Should Pretrial Risk Assessment Instruments Be Abolished or Reformed?

Last November, the Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI) released a report in opposition to pretrial risk assessment instruments (PRAIs), which are used to determine which defendants should be released while their cases are pending. The report argues that PRAIs cannot reliably predict flight from prosecution or engagement in violent crime and that PRAIs perpetuate structural racism by ignoring systemic and individual biases in policing. Other organizations, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, have noted the difficulty of ensuring fairness within PRAI design. In place of PRAIs, PJI argues criminal justice reforms should narrow the detention net, provide robust detention hearings, and prioritize the success and needs of criminal justice impacted people.

In response, a group of criminologists and law professors, led by James Austin, Sarah Desmarais, and John Monahan issued an open letter in protest of the findings, covered by the Crime Report. The authors argue that the PJI’s findings contradict social scientific evidence and that PRAIs are more transparent and less likely to introduce bias than human judgment alone. The authors also contend that the PJI’s report is overly reliant on ProPublica’s assessment of Florida’s Broward County risk assessment tool, COMPAS, an assessment that many researchers considered problematic. The open letter recommends reforms to PRAI design rather than discontinuing their use entirely.

International

German Responses to Far-Right Extremism in Law Enforcement More Robust Than U.S.

German authorities are increasingly investigating the widespread and organized presence of far-right and white supremacist extremists within the ranks of law enforcement and military. The move is in sharp contrast to the United States, according to a report in Foreign Affairs. In 2020, German authorities documented over 1,400 cases of right-wing extremism in security forces in a groundbreaking report. Authorities have since conducted investigations on soldier and police involvement in right-wing chat groups and passed the strongest legislation combating racism and extremism in the country’s history. The legislation provides over one billion euros between 2021-2024 to combat the problem.

But despite growing evidence that white supremacists and other right-wing extremists have infiltrated armed forces and law enforcement in the United States, lawmakers have shown little urgency. In 2019, ProPublica reported on a Facebook group hosting racist content, of which 10,000 Border Patrol agents, including the agency’s director, were members. Scholars of right-wing extremism also expressed concern after the attempted kidnapping of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Yet the federal government did not deliver an organized response. The FBI refused to attend a September 2020 House subcommittee hearing on white supremacist infiltration of local police departments. While some local agencies in the U.S. have dedicated resources to the problem, Germany’s national efforts show a greater degree of dedication to rooting out far-right extremism in law enforcement and military.

Racial Bias Impacts Risk Assessments for Canada’s Indigenous Women

Standardized assessments used to determine security classifications, access to treatment programs and services, and parole prospects disadvantage incarcerated Indigenous and Black Canadian women relative to their white counterparts. Using data from Correctional Service Canada (CSC) and controlling for relevant factors, The Globe and Mail found that Indigenous women were more likely than white women to receive a poor security score upon arriving at prison and more likely to receive a score indicating a higher risk of recidivating. Nearly 40% of women in Canadian prisons are Indigenous.

Despite awareness of these problems since a 2003 report by the Canadian Human Rights Commission and CSC’s promises to improve the risk assessment tools, many of the tools remain unchanged. In 2004, Cheryl Webster of the University of Ottawa and Anthony Doob of the University of Toronto found that one of the tools developed using data on men had no predictive validity for women and especially disadvantaged Indigenous women, and yet it remains in use. The CSC is “being dishonest… In 2014 they knew it, in 2004 they knew it, they know it now, and they’re still classifying people by criteria they know not to be predictive of what they’re trying to predict,” said Doob.

Judges in England and Wales Reminded of Racial Disparities at Sentencing

In its launch of eight new sentencing guidelines for firearm offenses, the Sentencing Council for England and Wales is directing judges’ attention to racial disparities in sentencing. The new guidelines were enacted to remind the courts to consider racial bias when assessing punishments. For an offense such as possession of a prohibited weapon, the guideline reminds the courts that a higher proportion of whites receive a sentence below the mandatory minimum, while Blacks, Asians, and other ethnic groups receive harsher penalties.

A 2017 review by Labour Member of Parliament David Lammy found an “overrepresentation of Black, Asian, and other ethnic groups at many stages throughout the criminal justice system compared to white people.” According to the Guardian, similar reminders to take note of racial disparities in sentencing may be added to future sentencing guidelines for offenses beyond those now subject to review for firearms. Related reforms in the United States include racial impact statement analysis for legislatures and former federal Judge Mark Bennett’s anti-bias jury instructions.

 
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