Racial disparity, cont’d…

More on yesterday’s report. Judiciary co-chair Mike Lawlor weighs in:

That shows the disparities may be more between the rich and the poor, said state Rep. Mike Lawlor, D-East Haven, co-chairman of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee.

Connecticut’s white population is unusually rich, meaning more white offenders can afford the best attorneys and avoid prison than minority defendants, Lawlor said.

Uh, what? Rep. Lawlor, in case you didn’t know, your state (my state, our state) has one of the best public defender systems in the country. I would rather be represented by a public defender in this state. Please, do not disparage the brilliant attorneys working for our division so. Them’s fightin’ words – and a little heartbreaking :(

You want to know another reason why the racial disparity is such? Because we classify non-violent drug offenders are violent based on their past history and keep them in jail longer.

That’s not to say CT hasn’t taken steps:

The legislature in 2005 increased the amount of crack cocaine a person must carry to be charged with planning to sell drugs. A commission of legislators, officials and policy experts is studying sentencing reform, including possibly changing the state’s mandatory minimum drug laws.

Nearly two-thirds of defendants charged with mandatory minimum drug crimes are black or Hispanic, state statistics show.

“The overrepresentation of people of color in our correctional institutions has long been of great concern to me,” Correction Commissioner Theresa Lantz said. “While I can’t control who is placed in my custody, I strive to address literacy, employment skills, sobriety and housing during incarceration, so that these individuals are prepared for a productive re-entry to their communities.”

Sentencing disparities anyone?

2 thoughts on “Racial disparity, cont’d…

  1. David

    Now this is fascinating. For years it’s been a liberal article of faith that poverty “causes” crime. If this is the case, and if (as in Connecticut) the black population is much poorer than the white population, then you’d expect blacks to commit more crimes than whites–and, if the criminal justice system is working effectively, to be incarcerated at a higher rate.

    But this is a politically incorrect conclusion, so Lawlor cannot reach it. Instead, he has to abandon the poverty-crime nexus and posit a wealth-acquittal one.

    And there is no doubt some truth to it: If, say, a rich kid gets caught with drugs, it’s more likely that his parents will be able to get him out of trouble by hiring good defense lawyers, importuning the authorities for leniency, etc.

    But is there anything the government can do about this? Surely the past 40 years have illustrated that bureaucrats writing welfare checks are are a poor substitute for parents. It is the height of unrealism to expect the government to provide for poor children as well as rich parents provide for their own kids.

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  2. Gideon Post author

    I think the problem goes several layers deep. It depends on so much – severity of offense (obviously), criminal history (which could be a product of race – black kids tend to get arrested more frequently than white kids) and mitigating factors, usually remorse, family ties, etc.

    Race plays a role in this disparity and in sentencing disparities. How and how much, I don’t know. But it’s time people started calling it what it is and addressing the problem.

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