Harvard’s Study on Black Incarceration: 15 Things You Need to Know
Back in 2016 when Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants observed that African-Americans were imprisoned 6 times more than Whites, he tasked Harvard researchers to find out why.
In this blog, I will share 15 facts cumulated from the study focus on Massachusetts.
Today, what we will explore together include the research process, credibility, proof of credibility, and accompanying data that led Harvard reps:
Brook Hopkins, Criminal Justice Policy Program, CJPP, Executive Director;
Elizabeth Tsai Bishop, an empirical research fellow;
Chijindu Obiofuma, a legal fellow, and Felix Owusu, a Ph.D. candidate in Public Policy to their conclusions. These are hard truths that you don’t want to miss out on.
Using regression analysis including factors such as the defendants’ criminal history and demographics, initial charge severity, court jurisdiction, and neighborhood characteristics, here is a brief of what these guys came up with.
The first on our list, at number 15, we will be looking at is the statistics that prompt Gants to ask Harvard researchers to “take a hard look at how we can better fulfill our promise to provide equal justice for every litigant.”
In Massachusetts, 655 of every 100,000 Black people are imprisoned, while there are only 82 Whites for that same number. This is according to data from the Massachusetts Sentencing Commission.
To make this a bit easier for us to comprehend: while 1 in 10 White Massachusettsians was convicted in 2016, it was 6 in 10 for Blacks.
And Harvard researchers provided enough reasons for this.
At number 14, we will look at a few of them.
But what do you think?
Is it that Black people committed more crimes? Well, no.
Do we have more African-Americans living in Massachusetts? Still a big NO.
Although any or a combination of these will seem logical, both assumptions are wrong.
The study examined the Massachusetts criminal process from charging to the racial disparities evident in sentencing. Working with data provided by The Trial Court records from their case management system, Court Activity Record Information (CARI) records from DCJIS, Massachusetts Department of Corrections (DOC) for individuals in the Trial Court data set who were sentenced to serve time in a DOC institution; American Community Survey, 2015 five-year data profile, legal and administrative consultants from Massachusetts Code and, Massachusetts Sentencing Commission publications, the researchers unearthed disturbing occurrences typically depicted in movies.
Some of which we find hard to swallow.
And that is:
Cops are more likely to stop Black drivers.
Police are more likely to search for or more interested in investigating Black residents.
The FBI is likely to charge Black suspects with infractions that carry worse penalties.
Prosecutors are less likely to listen to Black suspects plea bargains or any sort of pre-trial intervention.
Judges sentence African-American defendants to rot longer in prisons.
These are both facts and truths.
But wait a minute, there might be a clear explanation for this.
That is, African-American have the habit of perpetrating worse crimes than Whites.
This immediately takes us to number 13.
Now, know that statistics are 100% WRONG. Of course, Black people don’t commit worse crimes than their White counterparts. Surprisingly, it is the other way around. The study revealed the average white felon has committed “a more severe” crime than the average Black convicts.
And somehow a large percentage of African-Americans end up with longer sentences exactly an average of 168 days longer.
Hold your hat, it gets interesting.
At number 12, know that Black people are less likely than Whites to have “their cases resolved through less severe dispositions. For instance, probation before trial or “continuances without findings”.
This is exactly what it says. There is no attempt at sensationalizing data right here nor creating propaganda or an agender. It is right THERE for anyone who cares enough to see.
Like the tip of your fingers reaching for your insides, we aren’t even scratching the surface yet.
At number 11, after these guys reviewed more than a million cases, they didn’t just find out that African-Americans end up with longer prison sentences but also with harsher verdicts. Now, they don’t just get to stay longer in prisons but their stay in prison is worse than what it should be. In the case of parole, the conditions could be somewhat extreme.
The sentences aren’t simply harsher but end with less favorable outcomes than that of the Whites.
But do you think you can dispute these facts?
We could try. However, we did end up being subjective about the whole affair rather than the necessity of objectivity despite how you and I racially categorize ourselves.
There’s still more from where all of this came from. This takes us to number 10. Blacks make up 24% of the Boston population. A relative minority group somehow ended up the major race at 63% stopped by cops, interrogated, and searched between 2007 and 2010.
We could make several conclusions but the most obvious are that police officers think African-Americans are simply criminals waiting to be shipped to jail. And they are responsible for hastening the process.
And at number 9, the study revealed that Black suspects, not convicts don’t easily get bailed. Records amassed from the research shows that there is a higher volume of African-American defendants detained without bail when you compare the figures to that of White defendants.
So, after they are arrested, the fact that police officers think Blacks are criminals, they fail to give them the chance of bail.
At number 8, know that even when Black people are eventually granted bail, the bail is set “slightly higher” than that of white defendants. And Blacks are also “slightly more” unable to pay bail compared to White defendants while on trial. This causes them to be detained for the duration of their case.
It goes deeper than that.
At number 7, law enforcement agents go as far as charging African-American with higher offenses. The statistics on the average longer prison sentences denote exactly this. So, when a Black man is convicted of assault, he gets 6months jail time, and a White man could get maybe 4-5months tops. Just saying.
The study further illustrated how White Americans actually get more serious initial charges and somehow, they end spending less time in jail compared to African-Americans with less serious initial charges.
At number 6, to make this possible, prosecutors are more likely to send Blacks to Superior Courts. Here, sentences are mostly longer as the “Superior Court exercises exclusive jurisdiction”. An obstacle that made it difficult to come to an objective conclusion.
A reason for this could be that prosecutors expect difficulty in convicting Black defendants and “offer larger charge discounts during the plea-bargaining process to obtain similar conviction rates”. However, know that this interpretation is inconsistent with other similar research that Black defendants are more likely to be convicted in jury trials compared to Whites.
Is this against the law? Well, if you refused to grant bail despite a suspect meeting the requirements, you might as well make it a whole worse.
The law enforcement agencies play their part, and the justice system simply complements them. Rather than breaking the wheel, these guys keep it rolling.
It doesn’t end at shipping Black people to a Superior Court to receive longer sentences. At number 5, when it comes to drug and weapon offenses, Blacks along with Latinx receive not only longer prison sentences but are more likely to be incarcerated in the first place compared to Whites.
It turns out that the justice system might conclude that African-Americans and Latinos deserved to be in jail when caught with drugs or unlicensed firearms.
Also, despite the severity of the crimes and what the report tagged additional factors in all drug and weapon offenses: this statistic didn’t waver.
The treatment of Black people convicted of mandatory weapon offenses appears especially punitive and doesn’t align with the supposed promoting of public safety.
The differences in punishment for OUI and weapons offenses in Massachusetts thus has the potential to create large racial disparities in outcomes that do not reflect a relative difference in risks to public safety.
However, despite Black defendants making up 16.4 percent of firearm cases in 2012, close to 46 percent of firearm offenders were Black. And 70.3 percent of the time, all the individual did was carry an unlicensed.
At number 4 we have more astonishing facts on criminal charges. Additionally, Blacks are also more likely to be jailed and receive longer incarceration sentences when charged with offenses that carry mandatory minimum sentences compared to their White counterparts.
At this point, you will have to wonder if Blacks would care any longer. I mean the part where they receive longer prison sentences. It doesn’t start when they are convicted. It goes as far back as during pretrial.
This leads us to number 3 on our list where the study also showed that Black and Latinx are slightly more likely than White defendants to be detained for the duration of their case.
If you think all of this ends with when a convict is behind bars, then you are quite far off. We are counting down all the way to 1 remember?
The study previews the 2013 Survey of Massachusetts Sentencing Practices revealing that 79.8 percent of Under the Influence OUI cases were resolved without incarcerating the defendants. And probation was the most common disposition.
Taking our number 2 spot, the report showed that Whites made up 82.2 percent of the people convicted of OUI offenses. It is kind of funny as carrying firearms and drunk driving are considered to have equal danger effects, yet Blacks get the brunt of it all, and White get away with it.
This is because they constitute 77% of the people who were not convicted of felony after admitting OUI. To keep this simple more White people are charged with OUI offenses, and a huge percentage of them get away without any conviction. Yet, it is the other way around for drugs and weapons offenses which poses a similar risk.
Now, what about when Blacks escape from conviction? If you think that could be better, then again you are far off. Finally, at number 1, know that Black people on average tend to receive shorter probation sentences.
Besides, the research showed that African-Americans are even less likely to receive probation sentences in the first place.
Although, they faced challenges such as access to complete data, full cooperation from the law, with what we have learned so far disparities among races doesn’t just end with cops pulling a George Floyd ordeal regularly; or pulling out a gun to an unarmed Black who isn’t bent on supposed cooperation; it is deep-rooted in the entire legal system right from that moment the cops pull you over to the going behind bars.
What do you think? Yes, this study revolves around Massachusetts but isn’t this a one size fits all thing? Share your opinions in the comment section below, and let’s talk about racism because that is inarguably what it is. If you think otherwise, I would love to hear it.