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City Council backs task force to address disparities in justice system

Charlottesville is examining ways it can address Black residents’ disproportional representation in the criminal justice system.

The City Council backed a task force to review recommendations from a study commissioned by the city and Albemarle County during its virtual meeting on Monday.

The report, released earlier this year, found that Black residents in the city and county are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system and face disparity at nearly every level.

MGT Consulting Group examined available data from 2014 through 2016 to determine if Black people are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system — and if they get unfair treatment.

The report found that Black people made up significantly more bookings in the local jail compared to their proportion of the local population. It found that Black men received more charges during an arrest than white men. Black men also spent more time in jail on average than white men. Black men also were more likely to be found guilty than white people, the report showed.

The recommendations discussed Monday were broken into two categories: process and research.

The group recommended the city determine ways to engage the community in evaluating and monitoring action steps by giving them power to influence the process; formally convene a task force to report to the council on a regular basis; and invest in and encourage improved data collection.

The council backed Mayor Nikuyah Walker establishing the task force during Monday’s meeting.

She plans to present the makeup of the task force on Oct. 5 and provide updates starting with the council’s Nov. 16 meeting, followed by updates at least once every other month.

“We’ve got to start somewhere and this sounds like a good place to start,” Councilor Sena Magill said.

On the research side, the group recommended making a formal request to the Virginia Department of Corrections for probation data; requesting access to magistrate data from the Virginia Supreme Court; evaluate available police department data on arrests, separated by calls for service and officer-initiated interactions; invest in an evaluation of legal representation and conduct file reviews around bail and sentencing.

Rough estimates for the review of legal representation range from $50,000 to $100,000. The bail review could cost around $25,000.

Human Services Director Kaki Dimock said it’s “critical” to request the probation data.

“Probation violations drive the jail population like no other,” she said.

Much of the discussion Monday focused on gaps in data available for the study. In the report, the consultants said the data does not account for some factors, most notably magistrate data and information about the initial encounter between law enforcement and a suspect — specifically whether or not the encounter was initiated by officers.

“Studying right from the beginning where this disproportionately may start occurring at its first pinch point really does benefit you,” said Police Chief RaShall Brackney. “And you don’t necessarily need additional partners in your own jurisdiction to say, ‘Alright let’s look at the very first contact and really start breaking down that first contact and seeing where there may be disproportionality there.’”

Getting some of the data won’t be easy.

“Much of that discretionary decision making is made without being recorded and we don’t even have a way to capture it, much less analyze it,” said Neal Goodloe, a criminal justice planner with the Jefferson Area Community Criminal Justice Board.

The council said the city needs to also work with the county to align investment and goals because the legal system overlaps between the two localities.

“I think us alone in a silo is not really addressing the deep concerns,” Councilor Heather Hill said. “I think we’d be doing a disservice to whatever investment we make if we don’t have [the county’s] buy-in.”

Walker cautioned that the city shouldn’t delay work if the county isn’t ready to invest.

“I hope that we don’t get stifled,” she said. “We all agree this should be a collaborative process. If that’s not the case I would like us to discuss what is possible with the information within our boundaries.”


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