Among first-time Cleveland offenders who pleaded guilty last year to a single felony drug-possession charge, white defendants were 35 percent more likely than black people to get a second chance to make their pleas and charges disappear by successfully completing a treatment plan, says the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Virtually all of that racial disparity occurred in something called the Early Intervention Program, the control of which remains somewhat mysterious. Judges and defense attorneys said the program has come to be controlled by Prosecutor Bill Mason’s office, an assertion prosecutors dismiss. They say it’s a court program, with eligibility determined by the probation department and the decision on who gets in made by judges.
There is no denying the key role prosecutors play in charging people with felonies — or bargaining a felony charge down to a misdemeanor, a much less serious blight on a person’s record. The Plain Dealer analysis shows that white defendants appear to enjoy a significant advantage over black defendants in that realm as well. Among all defendants indicted on a single, low-level drug-possession charge over the last four years who were convicted after pleading guilty, white people were 55 percent more likely than black people to have their charges reduced to a misdemeanor. In most cases, it was to “attempted” possession of drugs, even when records indicate the defendant had drugs and there was nothing “attempted” about it.