CWU Researcher Finds Racial Inequities Persist in Washington State Criminal Justice System | CWU Public Affairs

Posted: June 11, 2012

Charles Reasons, chair and professor of Central Washington University’s Department of Law and Justice, was a member of the Research Working Group of the Task Force on Race and the Criminal Justice System, which has published a “Preliminary Report on Race and Washington’s Criminal Justice System” in the Washington Law Review. It has also been published in the spring issues of the Seattle University Law Review and the Gonzaga Law Review.

The task force was convened after two Washington State Supreme Court Justices said, in essence, that there were greater numbers of minority racial and ethnic groups in Washington State’s court, prison, and jail populations, solely because they commit more crimes. Reasons and other members of the task force disagreed with that statement and sought to correct this perception with a intense research project that examined the law, compared rates of arrest and incarceration, severity of sentences, and where the tipping point of racial bias came into play in these factors in Washington state. In 1980, of all states, Washington had the highest rate of disproportionate minority representation in its prisons. Today, the fact of racial and ethnic inequities in the criminal justice system is still indisputable.

“Our research focused on trying to answer why these disproportionalities exist,” said Reasons. “We examined differential commission rates, facially neutral policies with disparate impacts, and bias as possible contributing causes.”

The task force found that:

*      It is wrong to say that the reason there are more black people in the Washington State prison system is solely “because black people commit more crimes”

*      Policies that appear race-neutral have a very different impact on people of color and contribute significantly to disparities in the criminal justice system.

*      Racial and ethnic bias distorts decision-making at various stages in the criminal justice system, contributing to inequities

*      Race and racial bias matter in ways that are not fair, that do not advance legitimate public safety objectives, that produce inequalities in the criminal justice system, and that undermine public confidence in the legal system.

“This work will help inspire and guide future legislation to address previously unrecognized bias in the law and its application,” Reasons concluded.

Reasons has authored several books including The Ideology of Social Problems, The Criminologist: Crime and the Criminal, Race, Crime, and Justice, and Race, Class, Gender, and Justice in the United States: A Text Reader.

CWU’s Law and Justice Department is a national leader in preparing students for professional employment in the criminal justice and legal systems and for entry into graduate or law school. Since fall 2011, the department has offered a master’s of science degree in law and justice at CWU at Kent.

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