Pierce County Illustrates Rewards of Digging Deeper Into Data to Reduce Bias

Posted April 8, 2013, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

The Washington Supreme Court's newsletter, Full Court Press, reported on a presentation by Pierce County JDAI before the state Supreme Court. The meeting, attended by Superior Court judges and statewide juvenile justice leaders, was convened to look at bias and disproportionality in the juvenile justice system.

A review of statewide data by the Task Force on Race & the Criminal Justice System concluded that: “Race and racial bias affect outcomes in the criminal justice system and matter in ways that are not fair, that do not advance legitimate public safety objectives, and that undermine public confidence in our criminal justice system.”

T.J. Bohl, Pierce County Assistant Administrator, and Kevin Williams, JDAI Coordinator, focused on the importance of local data to identify the kinks in the system that result in a disproportionate number of youth of color in detention.

Using data to identify disparities, Pierce County discovered that the average time for processing an African-American youth was 10 days, versus seven days for white youth.

Research showed that youth of color, with low or moderate risk scores, remained in detention far more often than white youth with similar number, often because parents refused to accept custody.
Data analysis pointed out to policymakers that black youth were more likely to fail to appear for court hearings than white youth, and failed to reside at home, which leads to probation violations and additional detention.

In response, Pierce County detention reformers worked to reduce racial bias by developing a six-point DMC Reduction Agenda that targeted each decision point in the system that led to an overrepresentation of youth of color.

Revised policies and practices have resulted in a 47 percent reduction in detention admissions and a 60 percent decrease in detention bed nights for African-American youth, between 2007 and 2011.

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