CA Reforms Cut Racial Disparity in S.F. Criminal Justice

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California’s voter-backed reform that downgraded some crimes to misdemeanors in 2014 helped shrink the disparity in the criminal-justice system between blacks and whites in San Francisco, says a new study reported by Courthouse News. Proposition 47 reduced certain drug-possession felonies to misdemeanors and raised the threshold for felony theft and check forging from $450 to $950. Since the changes took effect, the gap in sentence lengths between black and white citizens dropped by half in San Francisco, and the percentage of felony drug arrests for black defendants fell from 23 percent to 9 percent. “This report shows that there is much more work to be done, but that Proposition 47 has already played an instrumental role in narrowing racial disparities in San Francisco’s criminal justice system,” said San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, who commissioned the study.

In 2010, blacks made up 6 percent of San Francisco’s population but accounted for 41 percent of arrests, 43 percent of people booked in jail, and 38 percent of criminal cases filed between 2008 to 2011.  The study by Steven Raphael of the University of California Berkeley and John MacDonald of the University of Pennsylvania also found the percentage of African-Americans booked in jail dropped from 43 percent of all bookings to 38 percent after Proposition 47 reforms took effect.

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