Black Defendants Face Harsher Punishments as Race, Ethnicity Impact Miami-Dade Justice Decisions: ACLU

"Black non-Hispanic defendants are sentenced to longer prison terms than any other racial or ethnic group"

What to Know

  • The ACLU report found that race and ethnicity impacted the decisions that makeup Miami-Dade County's criminal justice system.
  • The report analyzed racial and ethnic data for arrests, pretrial detention and other factors from 2010 through 2015.
  • The State Attorney for Miami-Dade County and the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court of Florida responded to the ACLU's report.

Ethnicity and race significantly impact key decisions in Miami-Dade County's criminal justice system, where black defendants face the harshest outcomes, according to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

The ACLU of Florida's Unequal Treatment: Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Miami-Dade Criminal Justice report analyzed racial and ethnic data for arrests; bond and pretrial detention; charging and disposition decisions; and sentencing – identified as "key decision-making points."

According to the report, ethnicity and race impact the likelihood a person will face harsher outcomes. Black defendants face the worst disparities.

The report, authored by University of Miami sociologists, is a joint effort between the ACLU of Florida and the ACLU's Greater Miami Chapter.

“Our analysis found disparities at every decision point that result in advantages for white defendants and neighborhoods, and disadvantages for black defendants and neighborhoods,” Dr. Marisa Omori, assistant professor of sociology at UM, said in a statement.

Racial disparities compound and worsen the further a defendant goes through the system, where black defendants – regardless of ethnicity – are overrepresented relative to their share in the population, according to the report.

The report also found higher rates of arrest, pretrial detention, prosecution, conviction and incarceration for defendants in black neighborhoods.

Black Hispanics disproportionately experience the most punitive outcomes – facing a share of arrests four times higher and a share of incarcerated population six times higher than the rest of the population.

"Black non-Hispanic defendants are sentenced to longer prison terms than any other racial or ethnic group," the ACLU of Florida said in a statement.

The report three years in the making analyzed data from 2010 through 2015.

"White defendants who are Hispanic are the most under-represented in the county’s criminal justice system relative to their share of the population," the ACLU of Florida added.

In response, Miami's Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court of Florida said the ACLU's report "offers insights that will inform our continuing efforts at self-examination and improvement."

“The Eleventh Circuit is committed to justice for every person, no matter what color they are, no matter where they were born, no matter how they identify – ethnically or otherwise – and no matter whether they are rich or poor,” Chief Judge Bertila Soto said in a statement. “We will study this report and use it to inform our continuing work with the goal of eliminating all racial and ethnic disparities in our criminal justice system.”

The court said it has already worked to address some issues by encouraging the use of civil citations instead of arrests for low-level crimes, by supporting anti-gun violence programs and by training judges on bias and diversity, as well as racial and ethnic dynamics.

The court also said it would address high pretrial detention issues by having law enforcement issue promise-to-appear orders instead of jailing defendants to await future court hearings.

In a statement, State Attorney for Miami-Dade County Katherine Fernandez Rundle said her office and its leadership have "always strived for fairness and justice as a priority."

"We have not yet had a full opportunity to examine the findings released by the ACLU today," she said. "However, I take my responsibility as your State Attorney to pursue unbiased justice for all in our community very seriously."

The ACLU of Florida said it plans to meet with community leaders, law enforcement and public officials to discuss how to reduce disparities.

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