Study: Shocking Racial Disparities in SF Courts

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Racial-Disparity

African-Americans in San Francisco are more likely to await trial behind bars than their white counterparts and face harsher punishment once convicted, according to a new study commissioned by the San Francisco Reentry Council.

Unlike previous reports on racial disparities, the study went beyond racial disparities in arrests and focused on unequal treatment in the courts as well, said San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who co-chairs the Reentry Council.

“The report makes it clear: Racial profiling extends beyond the street and into the courthouse,” Adachi said. “It also shows that San Francisco lags behind the rest of the state in closing the equality gap in its justice system.”

The report, “San Francisco Reinvestment Initiative: Racial and Ethnic Disparities Analysis for the Reentry Council,” was prepared by the nonprofit W. Haywood Burns Institute. Its data shows harsher treatment of blacks during virtually every step of the criminal justice system in San Francisco. Researchers looking into treatment of Latinos were hampered by years of poor data collection by San Francisco police, which counted the vast majority of “Hispanics” as white. The result, the study’s authors noted, was a likely inflated rate of justice system involvement for whites, and an underestimation of the disparity gap between blacks and whites.

Among the findings:

  • Blacks are 7.1 times as likely as whites to be arrested, 11 times as likely to be booked into County Jail, and 10.3 times more likely to be convicted of a crime in San Francisco.
  • Despite an overall reduction in arrest rates in San Francisco, the disparity gap between black and white adults is increasing. Meanwhile, the gap is decreasing statewide.
  • Jail booking rates for blacks and Latinos in San Francisco have increased over the past three years, while booking rates for whites have decreased.

Approximately 83 percent of individuals booked into jail in San Francisco also live in the city, the study found.

“Too often, people dismiss the alarming racial disparities in the San Francisco County Jail by claiming that African Americans from other cities enter San Francisco to commit crimes,” Adachi said. “In fact, it is black San Franciscans who are being over-policed and over-incarcerated.”

The study found shocking disparities in who is allowed to await trial at home rather than in jail, a program known as “pretrial release.” While black adults were more likely to meet the criteria for pretrial release, they were less likely than white adults to be granted pretrial release by judges.

African-Americans are also more likely to be convicted in San Francisco than their similarly charged white counterparts. The study revealed that for every white adult arrested and convicted in 2013, 1.4 black adults were arrested and convicted. Black adults were more likely to be sentenced to prison than their white counterparts, and to be put on more restrictive forms of probation.

“There is a direct correlation between being denied pretrial release and being convicted,” Adachi said. “People in jail are more likely to plead guilty just to get out, even if they’re innocent. Being allowed pretrial release means being able to hold onto your job, your housing—even your children.”

The study’s recommendations included keeping accurate ethnic and racial data and developing a system to monitor the disparities on a quarterly basis. The reports should be made publicly available and discussed regularly in meetings involving criminal justice officials, community groups and citizens – who should use the results to shape policy and practices in order to reduce the inequities.

Researchers concluded that “the prevalence of these disparities undermines any notion of ‘justice’ in our criminal justice system. Given the disparities in San Francisco outlined in this report, it is incumbent on local stakeholders to address the inequities within the criminal justice system.”

Adachi is currently working with San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim to secure funding for a Pre-Trial Detention Relief Unit, consisting of two attorneys and two paralegals. The unit would secure alternatives to incarceration for those awaiting trial through pretrial release programs, bail reduction, and electronic monitoring.

The entire report can be seen at: http://www.sfgov2.org/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentID=2692

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5 thoughts on “Study: Shocking Racial Disparities in SF Courts”

  1. TrueBlueDevil

    “…Researchers looking into treatment of Latinos were hampered by years of poor data collection by San Francisco police, which counted the vast majority of “Hispanics” as white. The result, the study’s authors noted, was a likely inflated rate of justice system involvement for whites, and an underestimation of the disparity gap between blacks and whites.”

    Interesting that this same over-reporting (incorrect) of crime for Caucasians, and under-reporting for Latinos happens on the federal level as well. (The federal level seems more insidious as it does count individuals as Latino when they are victims of crime.) Has this major error been fully corrected in San Francisco?

    At first glance, the numbers given for the San Francisco courts are troubling, but an ‘opposing view’ and / or additional facts may give a fuller picture.

    Are black suspects less likely to return to court hearings than their European counterparts? I know that on a different topic – children who were recently granted temporary residence in our country from South America – an astounding percentage of approximately 70% never showed for their court date, and another 15% were given residence without even going back to court. So maybe there is more to the story.

    Are black suspects more likely to be gang members, alleged violent criminals, or unemployed? All could have an effect on how the justice system treats them, so we need to make sure it is an apples to apples comparison. An employed retail worker arrested for a small amount of marijuana might be treated very differently than an unemployed member of the Bloods who is suspected of armed robbery.

    I read no control factor for the type of crime (misdemeanor, felony), the number of crimes alleged to have been previously committed by the suspect (a first time offender (my guess) is treated much differently than a repeat offender), and the alleged number of current crimes (1 vs 5?).

    My gut reaction is that gang membership may play a significant role here, and David has also previously made good points about the bail system.

    1. Davis Progressive

      “Has this major error been fully corrected in San Francisco?”

      not yet.

      “Are black suspects less likely to return to court hearings than their European counterparts?”

      i’ve never seen a justification on the bail system based on actual failure to appear.

       

  2. tribeUSA

    ‘Blacks are 7.1 times as likely as whites to be arrested, 11 times as likely to be booked into County Jail, and 10.3 times more likely to be convicted of a crime in San Francisco.’–does the ratio 7.1 also approximate the crime rate for blacks relative to whites?What happens to the ratio for for blacks living in poverty as compared to whites living in poverty (I bet its very close to 1)). What is so ‘shocking’ about poor people committing and getting arrested for more crimes than people with a decent income? –Is this something new? Is the booking ratio 11(/7.1) controlled for type of crime? The 10.3(/7.1) conviction ratio could be interpreted to mean that the evidence against black suspects was stronger than that against white suspects, or that more white suspects were able to afford their own lawyers to help with the defense.
    ‘Despite an overall reduction in arrest rates in San Francisco, the disparity gap between black and white adults is increasing. Meanwhile, the gap is decreasing statewide.’–over what time frame? Has there been a recent trend of fewer poor whites living in San Francisco, and more poor whites statewide?
    ‘Jail booking rates for blacks and Latinos in San Francisco have increased over the past three years, while booking rates for whites have decreased.’ Again, are there fewer poor whites living in SF recently, and thus also a lowering rate of crime by whites?

    None of these statistics in this article show any indication of racial bias by law enforcement or the courts. That Mr. Adachi and the mainstream media are presenting them as such indicates both ignorance of the meaning of such statistics, and irresponsible inflaming of racial tensions and promotion of racial division.

    1. Frankly

      Well said.  Completely agree with you.

      There is one important bit of data always missing when we hear about certain minorities over-represented in crime and punishment, it is the actual statistical particiaption in crime by the minority groups.

      And damn those Asian minorities sure mess up the narrative.

      1. TrueBlueDevil

        Yes, yes. There is a racial disparity in that whites are arrested, booked, convicted, etc., at a much higher rate than Japanese- and Chinese-Americans. I bet East Indians, too.

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