Black, Hispanic and homeless face discrimination in Boulder County criminal courts, study finds – Greeley Tribune
Blacks and Hispanics in Boulder County are more likely to be charged with a crime, convicted and sentenced to jail or jail than white residents, according to a new study of Boulder County Attorney’s Office practices.
For years, blacks in Boulder County have been charged with crimes five to six times more often than whites, and Hispanics have been charged about three times more than whites, according to Vera’s two-year study by the Institute, a national organization focused on criminal justice reform.
The study examined more than 58,000 criminal cases prosecuted by the Boulder County Attorney’s Office between 2013 and 2019.
“I have always believed that as long as we have racism in the United States, we will continue to see racial injustices in the justice system,” Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty said Tuesday. “That’s why we started this project; that’s why we chose it. We are committed to identifying these areas of inequality and eradicating them.”
Blacks made up about 1% of Boulder County’s population in 2018 and 2019, but made up 5% of the county’s criminal defendants; Hispanics made up about 13% of the county’s population but 25% of the criminal defendants. The county was about 79% white, but white people made up only 68% of the criminal defendants.
Additionally, in 2018 and 2019, 34% of prison sentences in Boulder County were Hispanic and 7% were Black, both disproportionately high numbers compared to the overall racial distribution of the county’s population.
“In short, we see that the inequalities start at the beginning of the system and at the most severe sentences, which end in prison, the inequalities actually increase,” said Seleeke Flingai, a senior research associate at Vera, during a July 7 session Presentation about the research.
In addition to racial differences during the court process, the study also found that people affected by homelessness are disproportionately brought to court: Only about 0.5% of Boulder County’s population is homeless, but 10% of felony cases account for felonies adults between 2018 and 2019 aimed at the homeless.
The study found that defendants classified as transient, homeless, or living in shelter were more likely to face drug offenses, were jailed more often, and were less likely to have their charges dropped than accommodated individuals.
Assistant District Attorney Christian Gardner-Wood said Tuesday the most common charges brought before the district court for those without accommodation between 2013 and 2019 included drug possession — a charge that has since been reduced to a misdemeanor — as well as threatened felony, burglary and assault on a police officer and theft.
“We don’t want to criminalize homelessness, I don’t think law enforcement wants that, and we don’t want that,” he said. “We looked at what the top 10 most common charges for homeless people are, and they tend to be charges that aren’t just associated with people who don’t have money or aren’t housed … they tend to be for more serious crimes.”
Dougherty said the disproportionate prosecution of people without shelter “reflects that we have a complex problem to solve in this community.”
“I don’t think that comes as a shock to someone who lives in Boulder,” he said. “But I think we need to offer more services to the homeless and reduce the impact on public safety and make it fairer overall.”
The study also found that in recent years prosecutors have expanded their diversionary programs — in which prosecutors typically drop charges when defendants meet certain criteria or take certain steps — which has reduced the number of people sentenced to suspended sentences and jail.
In addition, according to the study, the bureau is doing a better job of providing a diversion for juvenile defendants of all races. Historically, white children were much more likely to be offered distractions than black or Hispanic children, but that gap has narrowed since 2018, the study found.
Dougherty said during a July 7 presentation that his staff now review almost all juvenile cases to see if the children qualify for a diversion, and prosecutors now divert more children from the court system than they prosecute.
For adult distraction, which is less common, white defendants are still more likely to be offered a distraction than Black or Hispanic defendants, according to the study. Gardner-Wood said that while all juvenile cases are automatically reviewed for diversion, prosecutors must specifically refer adult defendants to diversion — a process that Gardner-Wood says may need to be modified to ensure it’s fair.
He added that a person’s criminal history influences whether the person is eligible for diversion as an adult, and the researchers did not consider this factor in their analysis.
The study’s findings are similar to what researchers found last year at the Denver Attorney’s Office, where blacks and Hispanics were treated harsher than their white counterparts in several ways.
The Vera Institute will release a final written report on the research at Boulder “this summer,” a spokeswoman for prosecutors said in a news release Tuesday, and prosecutors plan to release a “public dashboard” that will allow anyone to access the access data as it continues to reform its operations.
Gardner-Wood said the bureau is commissioning additional research to examine the data beginning in 2020, and said the new research will provide a more updated picture of the disparities and the bureau’s ongoing reform efforts. Dougherty said he intends to eventually eliminate racial disparities in Boulder’s law enforcement so that the defendants more accurately reflect the Boulder County population.
“It’s not just going to be a district attorney saying, ‘Hey, there’s racial injustice in the system,'” he said. “It will take everyone to make the system fairer.”
https://www.greeleytribune.com/2022/07/26/black-hispanic-homeless-boulder-county-court-district-attorney-study-disparity/ Black, Hispanic and homeless face discrimination in Boulder County criminal courts, study finds – Greeley Tribune