Massachusetts is locking up more Black and Latino people, for longer, and yes, it’s about race
Black people in Massachusetts are incarcerated at 7.9 times the rate of white people; for Latino people it’s 4.9 times the rate of white people. It starts at the beginning. While this study was “unable to observe or measure any racial disparities that may exist in arrest practices, police charging practices, or show cause hearings,” other studies have shown that in Massachusetts, as elsewhere in the U.S., police are disproportionately likely to stop and search Black and Latino people.
The racist disparities go on from there: decisions about who to charge with what crimes, bail decisions, whether cases are brought to District or Superior Court (with the latter imposing longer sentences). Inequality is introduced basically every step of the way.
In addition to the longer sentences when people are incarcerated, the researchers found, “Black and Latinx people are less likely than White people to have their cases resolved through less severe dispositions such as pretrial probation or continuances without finding.” Additionally: “Our analysis shows that one factor—racial and ethnic differences in the type and severity of initial charge—accounts for over 70 percent of the disparities in sentence length,” the researchers wrote. That’s where prosecutors are critically important. Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins, a reformer whose jurisdiction includes Boston, has pledged to stop charging people for minor, non-violent crimes.
“When those who are Black and Latinx, poor, suffering from mental illness or substance use disorder, or otherwise marginalized know that they will be treated differently by those in the position to take away their liberty—or even their lives—their trust in the legal system is eroded,” Rollins told The Boston Globe. “Our communities are made less safe as a result of these disparities.”
The study, conducted by the Criminal Justice Policy Program at Harvard Law School, took four years to complete and was hampered by inadequate data, poor record-keeping, and agencies and offices that didn’t respond to records requests—this last particularly noteworthy since the study was conducted at the request of the chief justice of the state’s Supreme Judicial Court.
The problem is clear: Massachusetts law enforcement, including especially prosecutors, will have to do the work of fixing the problem. That starts with who police consider suspicious and initiate interactions with, continues to who gets arrested, goes on to what charges are brought against which people, and of course includes sentencing disparities when people with the same criminal histories are charged with the same crimes.
Meanwhile, the Boston police union was whining about a hardware store worker.
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, Daily Kos reports