There has long been a racial divide in Texas among people who are charged with crimes. Numerous studies have shown that blacks are arrested and charged with crimes disproportionately over whites even though both races have an equal likelihood of engaging in criminal conduct. A new study shows that institutional racism also extends into the justice system, affecting plea offers, sentences and bonds.
A Loyola Law School researcher studied 30,807 misdemeanor cases over seven years in Wisconsin. The bulk of the cases in the criminal justice system are misdemeanor offenses, which are lower-level criminal charges. Whites were 74 times likelier than blacks to have charges that carry jail time dropped or reduced by the prosecutors. When the defendants had clean criminal histories, whites also were significantly likelier to have their charges dismissed or reduced than were blacks.
In addition to disparities in plea offers, the researcher found that whites also were likelier to be able to post bail. This meant that white defendants would then have more time for their attorneys to conduct robust investigations and fight the charges against them. Since black defendants were less likely to be able to afford to pay bail, it led to many of them entering guilty pleas to crimes simply to be released from jail. The researcher said that the results show that prosecutors subconsciously factor in race when deciding what pleas to offer.
The disparate treatment of black people within the criminal justice system points to a strong need for reform. When people are charged with crimes, they might benefit by getting help from criminal defense attorneys that can present vigorous defenses to the allegations against them. Lawyers may help their clients to obtain reduced charges or dismissals regardless of their race. Attorneys may mount aggressive defenses to the charges against their clients.