African Americans are six times more likely than whites to be in the Multnomah County, Oregon jail, according to a recently released study. They are also 4.1 times more likely to be prosecuted, 4.4 times more likely to be convicted, and seven times more likely to be sentenced to prison than whites.
"What this report fundamentally says is, if you are African American and in Multnomah County, you will be punished more severely if you intersect with the criminal justice system," said Bobbin Singh, executive director of the Oregon Justice Resource Center. "This report affirms what communities of color have known for a long time."
African Americans make up just 5 percent of the Multnomah County (i.e., most of Portland) general population, but they represent 27 percent of the county's jail population, according to the recently released Racial and Ethnic Disparities Report.
The report was produced as part of a $150,000 Safety & Justice Challenge grant awarded to Multnomah County in 2015 by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to create a fairer jail system.
For every 1,000 African Americans living in the county, 9.16 are in jail. Meanwhile only 1.5 of every 1,000 whites are incarcerated, according to the report.
"I think this is an indictment on the entire system," said Singh, suggesting that explicit and implicit biases account for the disparities.
Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill said his office is working with community partners to reduce the racial and ethnic disparities noted in the report.
"My office is dedicated to understanding what this study means by continuing to collaborate with the community and other agency partners, and by engaging in a more robust study into arrest and sentencing practices," Underhill claimed.
Singh agrees that more questions need to be asked, to better understand how police, prosecutors, and parole and probation officers exercise their discretion in making arrests, seeking prosecutions and plea deals and determining parole and probation violations.
It is crucial that communities of color have confidence in the criminal justice system, Underhill admits. He says he is particularly concerned by the disparity in who is being sent to prison.
"I am both horrified but not surprised," by the report's findings, said County Commissioner Judy Shiprack. She suggests that the report will serve as a baseline for measuring future improvements.
Shiprack claims that she will push for a "lasting, long-term solution" to address the problem through Multnomah County's Local Public Safety Coordinating Council and other partners. We will let you know in the unlikely event that something comes of that.
Source: The Oregonian/OregonLive
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