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Councll hears report on criminal justice disparities

In the wake of a report about racial disparity in the local criminal justice system, the Charlottesville City Council on Monday focused on possible ways to hold individual people accountable.

The report, which studied both the city and Albemarle County, took an expansive look at 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.

Some of the key findings of the report are that racial disproportionality exists at nearly all points in the adult criminal justice system. Additionally, racial disparity was found at five major points: the seriousness of the charge; the number of companion charges; bail and bond decisions; the length of stay while awaiting trial; and guilty outcomes at trial. Racial disparity was not found in the duration of time served, according to the report.

The report is considered a first of its kind by MGT Consulting, the group hired to conduct the study.

Reginald Smith, the group’s vice president of diversity and inclusion, told members of the press earlier Monday that one of the ways the study differed was by studying disparity in addition to disproportionality.

“By utilizing our statistical methods, we were able to determine that there are some areas where findings related to African American males didn’t just happen by chance,” he said. “We were able to factor out all everything else that came up with the determination that race does make a difference.”

At Monday’s City Council meeting, councilors heard a presentation from MGT Consulting, which walked them through much of the report’s content and some steps currently being taken to address both disparity and disproportionality.

Following the presentation, Mayor Nikuyah Walker said the information in the report did not come as a surprise to her or other members of the black community.

While most of the report focuses on systemic issues in the judicial system, Walker said she was interested in focusing on who is responsible for some of the discretionary choices made at the magistrate level, judicial level and other areas.

“From a staff standpoint, many of these recommendations are things that we have been doing and the city has been investing millions of dollars and a lot of staff time to and that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to work,” Walker said. “If you don’t remove the problem and without us being able to address the who — because I think we know the why and we know how it’s being done — I’m not sure how we can move forward.”

Kaki Dimock, Charlottesville’s director of human services, said the dual-locality research and planning team will now consider whether to look upstream or downstream at the data, or to dig further into the data they’ve already collected. Though the study didn’t start out with the intention of identifying who is making discretionary decisions, that could be an area studied further, she said.

“If we have identified places or points of disparity in decision-making, we would like very much to know how those decisions are being made,” she said. “Historically, in these kind of studies we’re finding the areas where disparity exists are areas where there are discretionary decisions being made by a human being.”

The City Council is still determining how it wishes to proceed in wake of the report, but Councilor Michael Payne highlighted a portion recommending the city continue working to establish an independent Civilian Police Review Board.

“We do need to have a conversation and decide whether this current iteration of the CRB has community trust and how do we best ensure it performs the functions of data analysis and auditing and doesn’t repeat the process we’ve seen with some new commissions that are created and don’t have community trust, soon fading into the background,” he said.

Walker requested Dimock and the research and planning team present further next steps at a late April meeting of the City Council. A work session may be scheduled in between, Walker said.


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