Racial disparities in sentencing have been found in several states. A new report prepared by a nonprofit has found racial disparities in sentencing in Arizona. The following is from “Report finds disproportionate sentencing along racial lines in Arizona”, by Pamela Ren Larson, Arizona Republic, November 15, 2018, https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona/2018/11/15/prison-reform-fwd-us-report-finds-arizona-disproportionately-sentences-minorities/2006408002/
The “Cost to Communities” report released Thursday by FWD.us, a bipartisan nonprofit founded by California business and tech leaders. At the state level, the report shows that communities of color are disproportionately sentenced to prison and spend longer times behind bars in some circumstances. The report follows research released in September by the organization that encourages criminal-justice reform.
The report analyzes state prison admissions from Arizona counties using admission data from 1985 to 2017.
Looking at people imprisoned for marijuana possession, Hispanic people make up almost 60 percent of people admitted to prison for that crime according to the report. Black people are one-eleventh the size of white people in Arizona yet the two groups represent near equal percentages of the people admitted to prison in Arizona for marijuana possession. In five of Arizona’s 15 counties, black people are admitted at a rate three times their proportion of the county’s population.
According to Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, the disproportionate racial outcomes are not a “consequence of any biased decision-making” in his office.
“A couple of times, I’ve done a data review to look at a demographic breakdown of our submittals based upon race,” Montgomery said.
A review of all cases submitted to the county by Montgomery’s office found that among cases submitted to his office, the percentage of cases that involved African-American, Caucasian and Hispanic individuals remained nearly consistent with those that were filed, pled, dismissed, and sentenced by race.
“There’s no statistical difference between how cases are submitted and how cases are resolved and how they are charged,” Montgomery said.
Yet consistent proportions of different racial groups across the criminal justice process do not depict that some individuals may be charged for the same offenses that others had dismissed, according to Dr. Cassia Spohn, director of Arizona State University’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice. Dr. Spohn also remarked that an analysis would need to compare each racial group according to specific drug crimes, such as marijuana or cocaine possession, and any analysis of sentencing outcomes needs to control for previous criminal history.
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