By Holly Werris
KANSAS CITY, KS – A report produced by the Vera Institute of Justice has exposed racial and economic disparities in the criminal legal system, starting with policing.
The report is based on quantitative and qualitative analyses from Kansas, which was above the national incarceration rate in 2021. And, Wyandotte County in 2019 had a combined average jail and prison incarceration rate of 1,330 per 100,000 residents, about 37 percent higher than Kansas’ average.
“Envisioning Safety: Community-Driven Prosecution Reform in Wyandotte County” used a participatory action research framework, collaborating with 20 organizations in the county to form their analysis through focus groups and surveys, said the Vera Institute, which also teamed up with Wyandotte District Attorney Mark Dupree.
“This research highlights the urgent need to re-evaluate the role of the criminal legal system in supporting public safety,” acting director of the Reshaping Prosecution initiative at the Vera Institute of Justice, Mona Sahaf, said.
Sahaf added, “The data-driven insights and community perspectives emphasize the critical importance of reform efforts that address racial and economic disparities from multiple angles.”
The research revealed, said Vera Institute, economic and racial disparities throughout the entirety of the criminal legal system. Minor traffic stops done by the police disproportionately target communities of color and poor individuals, while bail amounts for these same targets are excessive.
This, noted the study, and biased policing and overcharging, results in disparate arrest rates, prosecutions, and prolonged pretrial detention. Black people are also disproportionately affected by pretrial detention, and there is evidence of bias in the charging process. Plea deals are also more likely to be accepted because of a distrust in the system’s protection of individuals, as well as systemic pressure.
These disparities are exacerbated by dehumanization, especially towards Black and Latino communities, said the Vera Institute.
Redlining has been identified by researchers at Ohio State University as one of the culprits behind disparities in the criminal legal system. The neighborhoods that were redlined had higher rates of unemployment and poverty, as well as most targeted by the criminal legal system.
Vera’s research has resulted in recommendations to remedy the identified disparities through transparency, accountability and education. Urgency is needed in this matter, according to the research, for the sake of equal opportunity for all communities.