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How Three Cities Try to Reduce Racial Disparities in Criminal Justice



How can the criminal justice system do better at reducing racial disparities in the justice process? Speakers from Charlotte, Minneapolis, and St. Louis focused on how their cities are attempting to enhance public safety and reduce recidivism, especially for minorities, in a webinar hosted by the National League of Cities.

Kirby Gaherty of the host organization said racial equity is both an outcome and a process. As an outcome, racial equality is achieved, "when race no longer determines one's socioeconomic outcomes, and when everyone has what they need to thrive , no matter where they live."


It is a process involving people most affected by structural inequities who are involved in the implementation of policies and practices that affect their lives.


Gaherty said, "Equity and opportunity are tied to one another across all systems." She said every community suffers from systematic racial inequities, even in states who are doing their best.


Black and indigenous people of color (BIPOC) experience higher rates of poverty, which increases their chances of being detained and remaining incarcerated. Combined with "increased policing in communities, biases in prosecutorial discretions and sentencing policies, BIPOC represent a disproportionately high percentage of people who are incarcerated," Gaherty said.


She contended that the people most harmed by criminal justice systems should be the ones to lead new protocols that will help build a more equitable justice system.


Webinar speakers urged creating racial impact assessments, encouraging communications among justice system leaders and acknowledging the cumulative nature of racial disparities.


Federico Rios, equity officer for the city of Charlotte, discussed the antiviolence program known as Equity, Mobility and Immigrant Integration (EMII), which works to address limited opportunities because of systematic barriers.


The effort uses a public health approach by analyzing research, putting the research into understandable context and incorporating the perspective of people of color. The program started after Charlotte was called the nation's worst place for economic mobility.


The city's council adopted a Safety and Accountability for Everyone: SAFE Charlotte program that will be operated in areas with the highest concentration of violent crime. Backers hope to provide $1 million in city funds to help Charlotte based non-profits address violence.


Data will be shared among agencies and with the community through the Community Violence Dashboard. The public will be able to access a dashboard and see the demographics of individuals, perpetrators and the victims involved in violent crimes.


"One of the things that really drives us is using data based practices to guide our work," said Julia Martin, assistant to the city manager.


Minneapolis changing the responses to behavioral health crises (BCR). BCR is a standalone first responder program dispatched via 911. Program manager Taylor Crouch-Dodson said BCR is used to de-escalate dangerous confrontations and support people experiencing a crisis.


"The goal is to give people in a crisis an unarmed response that can properly assess their needs and provide care or support while avoiding unnecessary criminalization and hospitalization," Crouch-Dodson said.


Minneapolis prioritized helping historically underrepresented communities who use the service.


Wilford Pinkney, Director of the St. Louis Mayor’s Office of Children, Youth, and Families, said his city focuses on policing equity.


Pinkney said that after accounting for crime and poverty rates, and neighborhood demographics, data showed that Black people were exposed to force 3.3 times more than whites. He said most people deal with police are dealing with the "lack of basic needs, substance abuse, homelessness and lack of employment."


St. Louis is investing in youth programming, expanding the use of place based technology, and engaging the community in the development of new strategies.

Pinkney also cited included 911 diversion from law enforcement, diversion from the juvenile justice system, civilian response to local problems and efforts to interrupt violence.


All three speakers from cities stressed the need to prioritize racial equity when developing, implementing, and evaluating programs.