A report by Ethan Rogers, assistant research scientist, and Mark Berg, director and senior research fellow in residence, both in the Crime and Justice Policy Research Program, was cited in a recent Press-Citizen article about Johnson County's "progressive prosecution" solution to overpopulation and racial bias in its jail system. The 2019 study addressed racial disparities in the Johnson County criminal justice system and was funded by the Johnson County Board of Supervisors.
Progressive prosecution recognizes disparities in the criminal justice system and works to target the root causes of crime. Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness has implemented programs to give people a second chance and to connect people with social services.
Rogers and Berg studied data on 2,743 criminal offenses from 2015 and 2016 that were sentenced by the following year. They found that Black defendants experienced significant differences in case processing and sentencing, compared to white and Hispanic defendants. For example, Black defendants were more likely to receive bond decisions and jail sentences than whites and Hispanics, and less likely to receive deferred judgements. The disparities were most pronounced among drug offenses, with 87.7% of Blacks being incarcerated, versus 67.8% of white defendants.
Rogers and Berg made a recommendation to the county to create a database of demographic data on individuals going through the system, and to analyze the data to understand the disparities in the treatment of Black defendants. Lyness said that her office had planned to address these disparities, but the COVID-19 pandemic put that on hold.
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