According to data collected by the Task Force 2.0: Race and Washington’s Criminal Justice System, bias and the legacy of historically racist laws and practices contribute significantly to racially disproportionate treatment and outcomes in Washington’s criminal justice system.
From more frequent police stops, searches, use of force, arrests, longer sentences, fewer non-prison sentencing alternatives, higher or more frequent fines, and higher rates of deaths at the hands of police, people of color are treated more harshly than White people from the first contact with the justice system.
The Task Force presented their findings to the WA Supreme Court over Zoom on Wednesday, Sept. 29, and released their report to the public. The presentation was broadcast live on TVW and recorded for future viewing.
In addition to gathering data from the many points of contact throughout the justice system, Task Force researchers worked to identify reasons for disparities, often comparing “similarly situated” persons (those with similar crimes and criminal histories) and documenting differential treatment.
“At the end of the day, it’s race. At the end of the day, we see that disproportionalities persist in the criminal justice system.” ~Seattle University School of Law Professor Robert Chang
The Task Force report examines data on policing, prosecutorial decision-making, pre-trial release, sentences, incarceration, Legal Financial Obligations (court fines and fees), driver license suspensions, community supervision and reentry from incarceration, and more. The study also addresses the extensive impacts of contact with the criminal justice system on people’s mental and physical health, families, future employment, housing, and more.
Examples of Task Force findings include:
- From 2013 to 2020 in Washington state, 253 people were killed by police. Based on each group’s relative population, Black people were killed at a rate 3.6 times greater than that of non-Hispanic White people; Indigenous people were killed at a rate 3.3 times greater; Latinos were killed at a rate 1.3 times greater; and Pacific Islanders were killed at a rate 3.3 times greater.
- Data from four major Washington cities found that Black persons were 3.9 times to 10.6 times more likely to be subjected to use of force by police than White persons.
- In fiscal year 2019 felony sentencing for non-drug offenses, Black, Indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC) received significantly longer sentences than White defendants for the two most serious offense levels, and the disproportionality was pronounced for BIPOC defendants with lower criminal history scores.
- Black persons, Indigenous persons, and Latina/os are sentenced to court fines and fees (Legal Financial Obligations, or ‘’LFOs’’) more frequently and at higher rates than White and Asian persons. Even after controlling for relevant legal factors, Latina/os are sentenced to significantly higher LFOs than similarly situated White defendants.
The Task Force was launched in mid-2020 by the deans of Washington’s three law schools following the death of George Floyd.
The Task Force will release recommendations for action by the end of the year, along with another report from a “task force within a task force” examining the state’s juvenile justice system. Speakers during the presentation pointed to the need for greater transparency and information sharing in all areas of the justice system, the need to examine the role and impacts of incarceration itself, the need for leaders from all branches and levels of government to be involved, and the need to acknowledge that even with neutral laws and policies, implicit bias influences the unequal application of those laws throughout the criminal justice system.
“We need to be intentional . . . Seven decades I’ve been dealing with this. And if we don’t make space for these hard conversations, 70 years from now we’ll be in the same place.” ~Retired King County Superior Court Judge J. Wesley Saint Clair
Washington Supreme Court Chief Justice Steven González, who was involved in the 2010 task force before he joined the Supreme Court, closed the presentation by thanking the presenters and the members of the task force for their ongoing work:
“We regret that this work is still needed, but we recognize that it is.” ~WA Supreme Court Chief Justice Steven González
More background on the work of Task Force 2.0 can be found here.
Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime and race is an issue. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.