The Vera Institute of Justice says early results of a five-year project to help prosecutors “monitor and guard agianst racial bias in prosecutorial decision making” are showing “tremendous promise.” In a briefing yesterday on Capitol Hill, Vera reported on its work in three places: San Diego, Charlotte, N.C., and Milwaukee. The project involves a detailed analysis of defendants’ race in a variety of case types, producing data that surprised even some prosecutors. Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm said that under the project, his office has been able to cut the number of defendants in minor cases who are sent to prison, while maintaining public safety.
In Milwaukee, analysis showed that junior prosecutors were filing drug paraphernalia charges against 73 percent of non-whites vs. 59 percent of whites. The district attorney changed the office’s practice to stress diversion to treatment rather than filing charges in many cases. Within a few months, the racial disparity disappeared. A racial disparity in cases also was reduced in Charlotte when prosecutors declined more drug cases at the outset of the justice process rather than dropping them after they had been pending for some time. Anoka County, Mn., District Attorney Robert Johnson, an advisor to the project, said that both actual bias and the perception of bias in prosecution should be reduced so that citizens will have confidence when they report crimes to authorities.