They're also more likely than White people to get arrested and convicted on drug and weapons charges.
"People of color are overrepresented across all stages of the criminal system relative to their share of population in the state," Felix Owusu, a research fellow at the university's Criminal Justice Policy Program and an author of the report, told The Harvard Gazette on Thursday.
The release of "Racial Disparities in the Massachusetts Criminal Justice System"
coincides with America's racial reckoning stemming from the police killings of George Floyd
and other Black Americans. So the findings shouldn't be surprising.
"The report speaks to the need to consider policies outside of the courts entirely, such as how we structure our communities, economically, socially, how we police our communities, and what kinds of activities to criminalize at all," Owusu told the university's news website.
The 100-page report highlights a yearlong analysis of more than one million cases.
A Massachusetts Sentencing Commission review of 2014 data
found the state locked up Black people at a rate nearly 8 times that of White people and Latinos at 4.9 times that of White counterparts. The researchers said they took on the task after Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts asked for a deeper look at the disparities.
"The report reveals how institutional racism permeates the whole criminal justice system and ends up playing a big role in the racial disparities in incarceration rates in the state," Brook Hopkins, executive director of the Criminal Justice Policy Program, told the website. "It's not just disparate treatment by police, prosecutors, or judges once somebody is in the system. There is also a legislative piece."
Here are some the key findings:
- "White people make up roughly 74% of the Massachusetts population while accounting for 58.7% of cases in our data. Meanwhile, Black people make up just 6.5% of the Massachusetts population and account for 17.1% of cases. Latinx people are similarly overrepresented, making up 8.7% of the Massachusetts population but 18.3% of the cases in the sample."
- A report on the Boston Police Department from 2007 to 2010 found that Black people -- who represent 24% of the city's population -- accounted for 63% of people interrogated, stopped, frisked or searched. Latinos make up 12% of the population but were subjected to 18% of those encounters. "The disparity in searches was more consistent with racial bias than with differences in criminal conduct," the Harvard researchers wrote.
- Black people received sentences an average of 168 days longer and Latinos an average of 148 days longer than their White counterparts.
- Black and Latino people received more serious initial charges than White defendants, negating possible plea deals and exposing them to longer sentences.
- "The penalty in incarceration length is largest for drug and weapons charges, offenses that carry longstanding racialized stigmas. We believe that this evidence is consistent with racially disparate initial charging practices leading to weaker initial positions in the plea bargaining process for Black defendants, which then translate into longer incarceration sentences for similar offenses."
- "Black and Latinx people are more likely to have their cases resolved in Superior Court where the available sentences are longer, both because they are more likely to receive charges for which the Superior Court exercises exclusive jurisdiction and because prosecutors are more likely to exercise their discretion to bring their cases in Superior Court instead of District Court..."
Hopkins told the university news website a big surprise was the difficulty in gathering data from numerous state agencies.
"For instance, we were unable to get data from prosecutors' offices or obtain sufficient data from police and law enforcement," she said.
"Nor could we get final conviction offenses for most of the people in our data set or get data about judges or prosecutors. We got data about probation, but ... it didn't link up to a sufficient number of trial court cases... It took a lot of work ... and this is information that we should be able to know, as citizens of Massachusetts, that we just can't know because there is no data."