Racial and ethnic impact of bills may be considered

Disparate treatment between black and white people apparently does not end in the streets or the jailhouse. Blacks are more likely to be found guilty than whites in Florida; they are more likely to spend time behind bars; their sentences are usually longer; and they are not given as many opportunities to avoid incarceration through pretrial diversion.

(Data below is from the Herald-Tribune’s 2016 article: “Bias on the Bench”. For the full report, go to projects.heraldtribune.com)

The Herald-Tribune 2016 analysis revealed that judges in nearly half of the counties in Florida sentence blacks convicted of felony drug possession to more than double the time of whites — even when their backgrounds were the same.

In Charlotte County, judges sentence blacks to 2% more time than whites for robbery; 65% more for felony drug possession; 31% more for driving with a suspended license; 52% more for battery; 88% more for burglary; 11% more for 1st degree crimes; 27% more for 2nd degree crimes; and 43% more for 3rd degree crimes.

In Charlotte County’s 20th Circuit, Circuit Court Judge Donald Mason, for example, has sentenced blacks 986 days behind bars for burglary whereas whites received 696 days. For drug possession, he sentenced blacks to 622 days and whites 556.  Judge George Richards sentenced blacks to 1,099 days for drug possession; whites 367. He sentenced blacks to 1,019 days for burglary and whites 1,658 days.

State Sen. Randolph Bracy (D-Orlando) is proposing one possible solution: including an analysis about racial disparities in every criminal justice-related bill that comes before the state senate. A “racial and ethnic impact statement” would be similar to a “fiscal impact” statement now included in legislation to review the cost of proposals that could become law.

If legislation is passed, the FSU College of Criminology & Criminal Justice will provide information needed to include the racial and ethnic impacts in analyses. Bracy noted, “The publication of such information presents a key step toward delineating the extent of any racial inequity or bias perpetuated by the policies we consider as a legislative body.”

While blacks make up just 16 percent of the state’s population, they represent 41 percent of the state’s prison makeup (Florida Department of Corrections annual report).

Sen. Bracy says those disparities need to be addressed before any proposals are passed in the Legislature.

To lend your support to  Senator Bracy’ proposed legislation, call him on (407) 297-2045. You can contact your state senator for District 26, Ben Albritton, on (863-534-0073) and ask that he co-sponsor the bill in the next legislative session.