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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