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Local News

Can GA overcome racial disparities in its criminal-justice system?

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by Shanteya Hudson

About 60% of those incarcerated in Georgia are people of color. A new report from The Sentencing Project highlights some of the disparities that contribute to these statistics.

Report lead author Nazgol Ghandnoosh, The Sentencing Project’s co-director of research, said racial bias is most prevalent in sentencing, in financial costs tied to the criminal-justice system, and in how lawyers treat their clients’ cases.

“There’s a lot of research, for example,” she said, “that shows that when prosecutors are faced with two people – Black versus white, and they’ve committed the same crime – they’re more likely to charge the Black individual with a crime that carries a mandatory minimum sentence than they are to charge the white individual who’s committed the same crime.”

Ghandnoosh said this bias is especially evident when comparing charges involving cocaine and crack cocaine. The report said Black defendants receive longer sentences.

The report also mentions that efforts by prosecutors to reform the system in Georgia have met with pushback.

Ghandnoosh also said Black people are more likely to be stopped by police and, because they have historically faced income disparities, may have more challenges posting bail or getting a private attorney than people of other races. In her view, these biases make it clear the criminal justice system is in need of reform.

“So, for example, prosecutors in Milwaukee have changed how they charge around drug paraphernalia,” she said, “and they closely monitor those kinds of charging decisions for disparity.”

The report said more than 50 jurisdictions, including some state and local governments, have launched reforms to mitigate racial disparities. They include creating “second chance” opportunities, limiting extreme sentencing, eliminating cash bail and doing more to diversify jury pools.

This article originally appeared on Public News Service and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.