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Report finds racial disparity at almost every level of local criminal justice system

Black residents of Charlottesville and Albemarle County are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system and face disparity on nearly every level, according to a study commissioned by the localities.

The report, which studied Charlottesville 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.

Though often used interchangeably, the report uses the term “disproportionality” when one group is represented more than another; “disparity” occurs when one group is unequal.

Among 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.

“This disproportionality contributes significantly to the cost of running the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail,” the report reads. “It also places a strain on the criminal justice system and erodes trust among Black residents regarding the justice process. Most important, damaged law enforcement community relations make it more difficult for officers to execute their most critical responsibility to protect public safety.”

The wide-ranging report is considered a first of its kind by city and county officials. It acknowledges some data shortcomings, particularly in regard to the initial encounter between law enforcement and a suspect.

Charlottesville Chief of Police RaShall Brackney, speaking in November about a draft of the report, said that further work is needed to address disproportionate treatment. Brackney was hired in 2018.

“Is there work to be done? Absolutely,” she said. “I think we all understand that there have been historical and institutional practices that have either intended or unintended consequences that have resulted in disproportionality, we would all be naive to say that has not occurred.”

Brackney said that she found the report mostly thorough but noted the report does not indicate whether the initial contact was initiated by an officer or by an outside party, such as a call for service or warrant — information which was not available for the time period studied.

Such information will likely be sought and studied in future phases of the study, which city officials hope to update and expand regularly.

MGT Consulting Group was commissioned by Albemarle County and Charlottesville in 2018 to study data from local courts, arrests and Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail to determine the extent of disproportionate arrests of minority residents, as well as the disparity in charges and punishments.

The group analyzed data from local law enforcement agencies and conducted interviews with officers, attorneys, inmates and community members about their experiences with the criminal justice system.

Former Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney Dave Chapman and others told the city manager’s office that they were interested in such a report as early as 2015. The county expressed interest in participating in the study soon after.

At initial attempt at the report resulted in the termination of a consulting group in 2018, but a second request for proposals resulted in MGT’s hiring that same year.

According to city officials, the process was primarily funded through a $100,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services , with an initial $10,000 in supplemental funding from the city. The City Council later approved an additional appropriation of $55,400.

While Albemarle County and Charlottesville support the jail, only Charlottesville contributed funding for the report, a spokeswoman for the county said.

Disproportionality exists

Of the estimated 46,487 residents of Charlottesville, around 8.5% were black men and 10.22% were black women, according to 2017 population estimates.

In Albemarle County, black men and women made up 4.3% and 4.92% of the total population in 2017, respectively.

Despite making up a small percentage of the total population of each locality, black men made up 51.47% of Charlottesville bookings and 37.56% of Albemarle County bookings.

The degree of disproportionality becomes more apparent when compared to white men, who made up 32.69% of Charlottesville bookings and 39.63% of Albemarle County bookings.

Black women represented 6.88% of Charlottesville bookings and 6.40% of Albemarle County bookings and white women represented 7.42% of Charlottesville bookings and 14.55% of Albemarle County bookings.

Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, and other ethnicities and races were combined into a group called “Others” in the database MGT used.

“Other Males” represented about 1.75% of the bookings population for Albemarle County and 1.44% in Charlottesville. “Other Females” represented 0.10% for both Albemarle County and Charlottesville, according to the report draft.

Those groups were not large enough to include in MGT’s statistical analysis, which largely focuses on the comparison between black and white men, according to the report, but the consultants acknowledged they too might face discrimination.

Citing a separate analysis, the footnote acknowledges that Hispanic Americans also are “egregiously overrepresented,” in the criminal justice system.

The report further details and breaks down other variables by race, including age, education and employment.

Disparity exists

MGT used a sample of 10,348 individuals arrested and booked at the jail from January 1, 2014, through December 31, 2016 to calculate racial disparity. The consultants considered: the “most serious” charge associated with an individual’s most recent arrest event; the total number of companion charges; bail and bond decisions; time spent in ACRJ; adjudication decisions; “time sentenced/time served” in prison/jail for felony convictions; and “time served” in incarceration for felony convictions.

Using these factors, MGT concluded:

» For black men, race exerted a greater statistical influence in the total number of charges associated with an arrest than both the seriousness of the violation and prior criminal history, combined.

» Black men received roughly 8% more charges associated with the most serious charge as compared white males

» Of the variables associated with charges, race played a larger role influencing the seriousness of the main charge.

» Differences in age, education level and employment status had no statistical impact on crime seriousness decisions for men or women, or the amount of time spent in jail.

» Black men spent roughly five days longer in jail, regardless of jurisdiction, than white men

» For black women, there was no “race effect” increasing the number of days spent in ACRJ (though sentences for African American women were nearly 213 days longer, on average, than sentences for White American women)

» Regardless of race, men charged with a violation in Albemarle County were more likely to spend more time in jail than those arrested in Charlottesville for crimes of similar seriousness.

» For crimes of similar seriousness, black men were 31% more likely to be found guilty than were white individuals; For crimes of similar seriousness, for black womens’ race played no significant role in guilt or innocence outcomes.

» Race played a more significant role in guilty convictions than considerations of seriousness of the main violation

» Individuals charged with crimes of similar seriousness and characteristics, regardless of race, were nearly one-and-one-half times more likely to have been found guilty for crimes committed in Albemarle County than Charlottesville

Gaps in the study, anecdotal evidence and next steps

In the report, the consultants said the data does not account for some factors, most notably information about the initial encounter between law enforcement and a suspect — specifically whether or not the encounter was initiated by officers.

MGT noted that most local law enforcement agency records were kept for local purposes, and were never meant to meet all the standards of academic research. Such factors should be studied in the future, the agency said.

“For now, despite the absence of important information regarding police-suspect interactions, the data for this study nevertheless provided evidence that racial disparities in criminal justice outcomes for African American males particularly are present at various points along the Charlottesville/Albemarle criminal justice continuum,” the report reads.

Kaki Dimock, Charlottesville’s director of human services, said data also was lacking at the magistrate level, where — after probable cause has been found — determinations of charges are made.

“One of the points of disparity … identified is that black people experience fewer releases at the magistrate level,” she said. “More black people stay the night in jail than white people and so we’d like to know more about that and the magistrate data.”

To some who saw drafts of the report, the findings came as it came as no surprise.

Charlottesville attorney Jeff Fogel, who has in recent years advocated for better police transparency and other justice-minded efforts, said that having worked in the system for years the findings came as no surprise.

“The fact that black residents have disproportionate contact with the police and courts is not news — black members of this community have always known this; attorneys have always known this,” he said. “What I’m more interested in is how the city and county are going to address this report; how are they going to correct this issue now that they have this study?”

Chapter five of the report details both efforts already being done to improve the criminal justice system, as well as areas where improvement is needed. Several of the suggestions are already underway:

» Increase use of re-entry programs.

» Increase transparency of city and county police departments.

» Develop, encourage, and support special initiative programs.

» Increase diversity in law enforcement.

» Adopt programs that are alternatives to incarceration.

» Provide additional training opportunities for law enforcement and other actors in the criminal justice system.

» Review best practices from other communities addressing similar issues.

» Increase access to data and increase data collection at each decision point in the criminal justice map.

» Conduct additional research and build upon the findings and recommendations of this study.

MGT Consulting Group will formally present its findings at 6:30 p.m. Monday during a meeting of the Charlottesville City Council.


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