Bias Found In NYC Prosecutions; Research Doesn’t Prove It’s Deliberate


Black and Hispanic defendants in New York’s Manhattan borough are more likely to be held in jail before trial and more likely to be offered plea bargains that include a prison sentence than whites and Asians charged with the same crimes, says a Vera Institute of Justice study of prosecutions handled by the Manhattan district attorney's office reported by the New York Times. The study found that race was a significant factor at nearly every stage of criminal prosecutions in Manhattan, from setting bail to negotiating a plea deal to sentencing.

Race was not the sole factor. A number of legal considerations were found to be more important in predicting a defendant's fate, among them the seriousness of the charge and the defendant's arrest record. Vera president Nicholas Turner said researchers could not determine what caused the unequal treatment. “It could be implicit bias,” he said. “It could also be race-neutral policies that end up having a particular disparate effect.” District Attorney Cyrus Vance said he was concerned that racial disparities had cropped up, especially in the areas of pretrial detention and sentencing. He promised to move forward with “implicit bias” training for his assistants to guard against unconscious prejudices in their decision-making. Funded by the Justice Department, the study grew out of Vance's campaign promise to determine whether race played a role in the decisions of prosecutors. In a rare move, his office opened its books to Vera for 2010 and 2011.

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