A new study looks at the disparate treatment of black adult criminal defendants in Miami-Dade County.
“Unequal treatment: Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Miami-Dade Criminal Justice,” finds black Hispanics and black non-Hispanics are overrepresented in local jails and face harsher penalties as they make their way through the court system.
“Black Hispanics, even though they make up one of the smaller populations in Miami Dade, they're the most overrepresented in the system and we really found that across all of the different stages that we examined,” said Marisa Omori, a University of Miami sociology professor and co-author of the study.
The study which looks at data from 2010 to 2015, broke down race by white non-Hispanic, white Hispanic, black non-Hispanic and black Hispanic.
Nick Petersen, co-author of the study, said it’s important to specify race from ethnicity in looking at outcomes in the criminal justice system — especially in Miami-Dade, with its rich tapestry of immigrant communities.
“Previous research has really talked about racial disparities, but not as many talk about ethnic disparities,” he said. “And so to see such divergent outcomes for white Hispanics relative to black Hispanics — I think that was the most surprising thing.”
The study produced in partnership with the American Civil Liberties Union of Greater Miami also found Black Hispanics are more likely to live in predominantly black neighborhoods that face higher rates of arrests and interactions with police officers.
Some of the study's findings include:
- Black Hispanics are detained at a rate that is four times larger than their representation in the county population.
- Black non-Hispanics are detained at a rate twice as large as their population share.
- White Hispanic defendants are underrepresented compared with their proportion of the county population.
- Black Hispanics spend, on average, about 11 days in pretrial detention, and Black non-Hispanic defendants spend an average of about 10 days in pretrial detention.
- White Hispanic defendants spend about eight days in pretrial detention, and White non-Hispanic defendants spend about seven days in pretrial detention. White non-Hispanics spend about 7 seven days.
- Black defendants regardless of ethnic makeup receive longer sentences than any other group.
The ACLU's Jeane Baker sat down with WLRN reporter Nadege Green to talk about the study's findings.
WLRN: One of the key findings of this study is that black Hispanics are overrepresented in the criminal justice system. They spend the most amount of time being held in jail overnight. And black Hispanic defendants receive harsher sentences than white Hispanics. Tell me more about what this means.
Baker: There are obviously systemic policies and practices at work in our county that lead to these disparities.
We don't know what it means. We've identified the problem. We're going to be looking for help from all of these different agencies for the solutions.
This study is probably one of the first locally that I've seen on a criminal justice level to start to separate race from ethnicity. Why is that important?
We thought that particularly in Miami Dade County, which has such a large Hispanic population, we just thought that we really had to take ethnicity into account even though other studies had focused just on race.
Talk a little bit more about that. The intersections of race and ethnicity. What would have happened if you just look at Hispanic as one bucket?
I think if we had looked at just Hispanic as one bucket and had not separated out white Hispanics from black Hispanics we would have lost very important information about the realities of the system because white Hispanics going through the system are treated very differently in terms of the results that the system comes up with than black Hispanics.
When we look at race overall there were some clear patterns that if you're black regardless of your ethnicity Hispanic or non Hispanic from the arrest to sentencing this study found disparities. Talk about some of those disparities.
Well we found disparities at every level. Black people in the county whether they're Hispanic or not are arrested at much higher proportions than mirror their share of the county population. Our sociology experts tested for whether there were other factors other than race that might account for this overrepresentation. And when all of the factors are tested for whether it be prior record, severity of crime, different factors--the results come out the same every time. That there is a significant disparity that cannot be explained by anything other than race.
Was there anything in this study that surprised you?
We were initially surprised that white Hispanics are underrepresented. And I think without having thought about it much we just thought what we were going to find was that all whites whether they were Hispanic or not would be arrested proportionate to their population share. That probably was our gut instinct in advance.
We were surprised when we found that white Hispanics one could say are favored in the system.
As an attorney who has focused on civil liberties litigation and criminal defense. How does what you see in this study play out in real life outside the court system?
This report by focusing not only on how individual defendants fare in the criminal justice system, but also how neighborhoods in our county are represented in the criminal justice system really ties into those issues of communities that are suffering economically and from the effects of mass incarceration. Mass incarceration is both a cause and effect. Mass incarceration leads to all kinds of negative collateral consequences in the the community.