Lauren Castle Arizona Republic
(CNT) City News And Talk #arizona
In Maricopa County, Black people are disproportionately charged with crimes, according to newly released data.
And people of color were given longer jail sentences and higher criminal fines than white people, a new study analyzing county criminal sentences between 2013 and 2017 shows.
The charging data is part of a new online dashboard from the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office detailing cases from 2017 through 2019.
And the sentencing data is from a report the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona released Thursday. It acquired the data following a years-long public records legal battle with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office under former County Attorney Bill Montgomery.
Advocates have long alleged that minority defendants are more likely to be charged, more likely to be pushed toward plea deals and more likely to face tougher sentences.
Analise Ortiz, ACLU’s campaign strategist, said the County Attorney’s Office for years has been saying it couldn’t address racial disparities because there wasn’t enough data or time.
“They’ve had this data all along,” Ortiz said. “As criminal justice reform advocates, we have always known racial disparities exist in the way that cases are prosecuted. Now we have this data that really shows what a grand picture it is.”
Allister Adel replaced Montgomery as county attorney in October. She commented on the value of analyzing such data when she announced the new dashboard last week.
“If we are to enact meaningful reforms in the criminal justice system, it is important that we understand what is submitted to this office and then filed as it relates to criminal charges in this community,” Adel stated in a news release.
Jennifer Liewer, a spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, said they hadn’t yet had a chance to analyze ACLU’s report.
“Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel believes in smart justice to ensure the most dangerous offenders are held accountable but those who want to ‘do better and be better’ are given the opportunity and provided the resources necessary to do so regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or socioeconomic status,” Liewer said.
She said the criminal justice system is made up of individual cases and the office is committed reviewing each one individually and assessing the facts and evidence that apply.
2019 criminal charges
The county dashboard includes cases submitted from 2017 to 2019.
The dashboard is updated each week with new information. Due to the sometimes lengthy legal process, some cases may not yet have an outcome.
It shows which law enforcement agency submitted each case, what the criminal charge is for, the case’s status and how the County Attorney’s Office handled it.
It includes racial and gender information as submitted by law enforcement, which offers insights but is not always completely accurate because different agencies determine race and ethnicity in different ways — including by sometimes guessing.
The 2019 data indicates that cases are disproportionately submitted by law enforcement against Black individuals compared to their population within the county, both overall and in a number of specific crimes.
Charges are also disproportionately filed against Black individuals by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.
About 6% of Maricopa County’s population is Black, according to the latest U.S. Census data. Eighteen percent of the criminal cases referred by law enforcement to the County Attorney’s Office in 2019 were against Black individuals. Eighteen percent of the criminal cases the county filed with the court in 2019 were against Black individuals.
Dig more deeply to see that 27% of the individuals charged with marijuana use or possession were Black, and 23% of the individuals charged with assault and other related offenses were Black.
Longer times in custody
During Montgomery’s time as county attorney, criminal justice advocates often said he had a huge influence at the state Legislature and made it nearly impossible to pass justice reform legislation, even with bipartisan support.
He served as county attorney from 2010 to September 4, 2019.
Montgomery and some other counties’ prosecutors have opposed bail reform, sentencing reform and lighter drug sentences while supporting tougher penalties for other crimes.
The ACLU report shows that white people prosecuted by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office spent less time in jail than people of color.
Ortiz told The Republic that it is unacceptable that Black people are spending a longer time in custody — on average eight months longer — than white people.
The ACLU found that:
White people spent an average of 775 days in custody.
Hispanic people spent an average of 990 days.
Black people spent an average of 1,004 days.
In the “all others” category, the average number of days was 775.
Ortiz said when looking at the comparison of the Black population in Maricopa County to how many cases are filed against Black defendants in the office, the issue needs to be addressed immediately.
According to the report, white people were more likely to have the county decide not to file criminal charges or to have their cases dismissed than people of color. Hispanic people were least likely to have their cases dismissed.
White: Not filed 10.5%; dismissed 11.2%.
Black: Not filed 9.6%; dismissed 10.6%.
Asian, indigenous and other: Not filed 8.3%; dismissed 8.6%.
Hispanic: Not filed 8.3%; dismissed 8.4%.
The ACLU studied how the criminal justice system puts financial barriers on defendants. It wanted todetermine whether people were paying higher fines based on their race.
The report found that people of color were more likely to pay more fines:
Asian, Indigenous and Other: $1,478.13.
Ortiz said this finding shows how many barriers Latino people face in the criminal justice system.
Montgomery, who is now a justice on the Arizona Supreme Court is known for his opposition to marijuana.
The County Attorney’s Office under his leadership was sued for its diversion program concerning marijuana crimes. When Adel became county attorney, she ended the diversion program with the Treatment Assessment Screening Center.
The office combined the drug diversion and felony pretrial intervention programs together with the help of SAGE Counseling.
The ACLU’s report found that Hispanic people prosecuted by the office had longer jail and prison terms for marijuana possession than Black and white people.
According to the data, white people spent an average of 242 days in custodyfor marijuana possession, Black people spent an average of 246 days, and Hispanic people spent an average of 298 days.
Black people also had longer probation sentences and spent more time incarcerated than other groups when it came to charges concerning possession of drug paraphernalia.
The average total of jail, prison and probation days for a drug paraphernalia sentence:
Black: 698 days.
Hispanic: 649 days.
White: 641 days.
All others: 557 days.
How to fix the problem?
Racial disparities touch every part of the criminal justice system.
Ortiz said the problem goes beyond police actions in Black and brown communities, although those have been the focus of protests and public outcry in recent months.
“It is really about the decisions prosecutors are making every day when they sit down and negotiate plea deals and decide which charges to file,” he said.
“This report should give the Maricopa County attorney a reason to take immediate action, to implement policies that will reduce these racial disparities within the office,” Ortiz said.
The ACLU offered several ways the County Attorney’s Office can make sure defendants are treated equally.
The organization said it is important to implement policies that are designed to reduce racial disparities. The policies should be more than implicit bias training and need to have measurable reductions.
The office should create an independent conviction integrity unit to review past cases, she said.
“We want to see greater transparency from this office,” Ortiz said.
She said the County Attorney’s Office should make its data more available to the public.
When announcing the dashboard last week, Adel said it supports her vision to have a more transparent process and the importance of data-driven decision making.
The ACLU also suggested the office work with law enforcement to create a “no-call list,” which would show the police officers who have committed misconduct, exhibited racist or biased views, or been dishonest.
“We want them to stop calling those officers to the stand and stop relying on those reports because racism is so deeply entrenched in so many of the law enforcement agencies,” Ortiz said.