February 11, 2016 - A new report reveals people of color are negatively impacted in greater numbers than whites at every stage of the criminal justice system in Multnomah County. The county's Racial and Ethnic Disparities (RED) report shows the disparity is greatest for black people.
The report reveals that black people are 320% more likely than whites to have their crimes accepted for prosecution, 500% more likely to spend time in jail, and 600% more likely to be sentenced to prison.
While we aren’t surprised to see this evidence of racism in our criminal justice system, we are disappointed. It looks like people are being punished in Multnomah County for being black.
Communities of color deserve a system that is fair, just, and unbiased. The data shows this problem is not isolated to one or two areas but is systemic. Over the years we have seen data related to specific aspects of the criminal justice system (such as traffic stops and drug exclusion zones) that also confirm that racial disparities exist in Portland and Multnomah County.
Yet there has been little or no institutional curiosity to find out why these stark disparities exist.
We hope this study will provide a new opportunity for change. We have joined a group of ally organizations to push this information out and to call for action. Everyone working within the criminal justice system needs to take ownership of this problem.
We are demanding that Multnomah County:
• publicly share all of the data collected in this study;
• include community and stakeholders in identifying solutions; and
• put measurable goals in place to address discrimination by the system.
We need to learn more about how and when discretion is used in our criminal justice system, particularly in parts of the system where decisions are made behind closed doors.
The RED Report was produced by an independent researcher at the request of Multnomah County using data collected by those working within the criminal justice system in the county. It was funded by a grant through the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge. Nineteen other jurisdictions around the country also received funding to do their own studies.
Everyday these racial disparities exist, more people of color are unfairly and disproportionately criminalized and recriminalized. This level of criminalization produces long-lasting consequences for individuals and their families, as well as our communities.
It needs to stop.