Racial Justice in Prosecution Report Show Blacks Overrepresented in Arrests, Felonies

By Vanguard Staff

BALTIMORE, MD – Despite the racial demographics of Baltimore, Blacks are overrepresented in arrests and Circuit Court felony cases, according to a report released this week—commissioned by the state’s Attorney’s Office and provided by the University of Maryland (UMD)—that analyzed arrests, prosecutions, and incarcerations for felony cases.

State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby shared “steps to undo racial inequities in the American criminal justice system, reaffirming the office’s continued commitment to racial justice” in a statement.

The UMD report, entitled “Racial justice in prosecution in Baltimore City,” notes that Blacks “account for 63 percent of the city population but 83 percent of arrests and 88 percent of Circuit Court cases.”

Read the full report here.

The report adds, “America is the largest jailer of people in the world with Black people imprisoned at nearly five times the rate of whites. Here, in the State of Maryland, African-Americans make up a mere 31 percent of the State population, yet comprise 70 percent of the state’s prison population – more than double the national average.”

The State’s Attorney announced the launch of a new campaign, “The Many Faces of Justice,” “knowing that justice comes in many forms…this campaign will contain videos of the many people impacted by the SAO’s dedication to delivering one standard of justice.”

“While I am pleased that the report concludes that there is little evidence of overarching or systemic patterns of racial disparity in the prosecution of felony cases by my office, I am troubled by the overrepresentation of Black people in felony cases,” said State’s Attorney Mosby.

“I have long recognized the racial inequities that permeate the criminal justice system in our city. That is why I have implemented widespread reforms that reduce systemic racial disparities and allow us to focus on serious offenses to ensure justice is applied fairly, regardless of race, to everyone,” Mosby added.

“Prosecutors’ offices have long been hesitant to open themselves up to public scrutiny when it comes to issues such as racial justice, which is why the efforts Ms. Mosby and the BCSAO are taking to study, identify, and address racial disparities in prosecution are so important. The present study represents an important step toward increasing transparency, fairness, and justice in the criminal legal system,” said Brian D. Johnson, lead researcher on the report and Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Maryland.

In 2019, State’s Attorney Mosby testified before a U.S. House panel on marijuana legalization and described the evident racial disparities in Baltimore.

“…[T]here is no better illumination of this country’s failed ‘war on drugs’ than the city of Baltimore, Maryland. In Baltimore, where almost 70 percent (65 percent) of the city population is Black, 28 percent of Baltimore’s population lives in poverty and 35 percent of children live below poverty,” Mosby said.

“Where there are over 16,000 vacant houses and 18,000 vacant lots, where the unemployment rate for young African-American men between the ages of 18 and 24 are more than twice as high than that of whites, we saw, communities of color decimated by this ‘War On Drugs.’ The status quo is neither just nor sustainable. As prosecutors, we have a responsibility to use our power of discretion to create a more fair and just criminal justice system,” Mosby added.

The “Racial Justice in Prosecution in Baltimore” report reviews data from the city’s Circuit Court, which typically handles felony cases, from 2017 and 2018, and made the following findings:

  • The general pattern of findings provides minimal evidence of overarching or systemic patterns of racial disparity in the prosecution of Baltimore City Circuit Court felony cases.
  • However, relative to the racial demographics of Baltimore, Blacks are overrepresented in arrests and Circuit Court felony cases. They account for 63 percent of the city population but 83 percent of arrests and 88 percent of Circuit Court cases.
  • More than 80 percent of felony cases involve a Black male defendant.
  • On average, Black defendants face more serious charges and are overrepresented in violent, firearms, and drug-related offenses.
  • White defendants are overrepresented in property offenses such as burglary and theft.
  • Prior criminal history is more pronounced for Black defendants, as are “War Room” cases, a designation used to identify serious or violent repeat offenders.

The report also contains a number of recommendations for the SAO, including reviewing initial charges to investigate whether initial charging decisions are impacted by a defendant’s  race, improving data collection, and reviewing its use of the War Room designation.

The authors began their research in 2019. The report covers the period from 2017-2018. Since that period, State’s Attorney Mosby said she has taken the following steps to reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system. This is what she claims:

  • In January 2019, Mosby stopped prosecuting marijuana possession cases. In the decade prior to the policy, Baltimore City had the largest rate of disparity among marijuana arrestees, with Black people almost six times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than Whites. From 2014 to 2018, we had 1468 marijuana possession cases Last year, the police made only five marijuana arrests, all of which were dismissed by the SAO.
  • In March 2020, Mosby stopped prosecuting a range of minor offenses including sex work and drug possession, offenses that typically tie up black people in the criminal justice system. An estimated 443 new drug/paraphernalia-possession and prostitution arrests were averted as a result of the new no-prosecution policy, 78 percent of which were averted in the Black community.
  • In December 2020, Mosby opened a unit to review and reduce lengthy sentences. The Unit has released 29 people, all of whom are black.
  • In 2019, the average number of people who entered the criminal justice system was 23244. In 2021, the number was 13645, a drop of 41 percent.
  • The number of people incarcerated in prison (Baltimore City sentenced individuals) has dropped from 3952 people at the start of SA Mosby’s term (end of 2014) to 552 (end of 2021) an almost 800 percent reduction. (Variables for these two data points include the low-level policies, Covid, consent decree, and other factors)
  • Homicide conviction rate
  • The office has exonerated 12 men, all Black.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

Related posts

4 Comments

    1. David Greenwald

      You’ve one-lined something that’s actually extremely complicated and has multiple dimensions to it. To keep it simple here, there is a lot of dispute about the extent which that is true, but what’s not dispute is even controlling for levels of actual crime (if you can), Blacks are still overrepresented in the system.

      1. Ron Oertel

        but what’s not dispute is even controlling for levels of actual crime (if you can), Blacks are still overrepresented in the system.

        Those two claims are in opposition to each other.

        If you can’t “control for levels of crime”, then you can’t draw conclusions as to Black people being “overrepresented” in the system (in regard to the amount of crime they commit – when measured as a “group”).

        It could be that they’re “underrepresented” in the system, in regard to the amount of crime that they commit (when measured as a group).

        Now, if you want to say that they’re overrepresented in the system, that’s certainly true.  But the question as to the reason(s) for that is what’s important. And the implication in just about every Vanguard article is that it’s due to “‘racist systems” (and/or people). Without even defining what that means.

        If a “racist system” is one that holds people accountable for their actions and removes those creating problems for others (but results in disproportionate representation in the system), whose responsibility is that?

        For that matter, men are “overrepresented” in the system, per your definition.

        1. Ron Oertel

          For that matter, men are “overrepresented” in the system, per your definition.

          So, is the system also “sexist”?

          And, why aren’t Asians “proportionately-represented” in the system? (Without even going into the sub-groups of Asians.)

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
$ USD
Sign up for