Report Finds “Non-Glaring” Racial Differences in Criminal Prosecutions

Researchers at Florida International University in Miami are conducting a series of investigations into racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Funded by a $1.7 million grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the project aims to identify racial and ethnic disparities at various stages of a criminal case, from arrest and charges being filed to plea agreements, conviction, and sentencing.

In this recently released report, researchers from the university’s department of criminology and criminal justice examined nearly 87,000 cases from 2017 and 2018 to compare outcomes for Black, White and Hispanic defendants in Hillsborough County, Florida. Although there were differences between racial groups, the disparities were not glaring, researchers found.

“Among multiple prosecutorial and judicial decision points analyzed, racial and ethnic disparities are not large,” said FIU criminal justice professor Besiki Kutateladze, who led the project. “Whenever differences among White, Black and Hispanic defendants in prosecutorial and judicial decisions exist, Whites are more disadvantaged for some decision points and offense categories, and Blacks and Hispanics are more disadvantaged for others,” Kutateladze explained. “For example, Whites were most likely to receive prison sentences for felony property offenses. Blacks were least likely to receive diversion [a process in which the offender avoids a criminal conviction by entering some type of rehabilitation program] for felony drug offenses.

“We have more than 2,300 local prosecutorial offices in this country and only a handful of them have carried out an independent and transparent examination of their decisions with respect to racial and ethnic disparities,” Professor Kutateladze said. “We should applaud prosecutors who commit to improving their work and ensuring equitable and just outcomes for all defendants.”

The full report, Race, Ethnicity and Prosecution in Hillsborough County, Florida, may be downloaded here.

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