Senate reviews ethnic and racial statistics on crime
Racial impact statements planned on 2020 criminal justice bills
Arrest and incarceration rates for African Americans remain substantially higher than for whites and Hispanics in Florida, but may disappear in a couple of crime categories, according to projections from Florida State University.
The Senate Criminal Justice Committee heard a report from FSU’s College of Criminology and Criminal Justice November 5 on various criminal justice statistics.
The report is part of a novel partnership between the Senate and FSU to produce racial and ethnic impact statements on criminal justice bills being proposed for the 2020 legislative session. That in turn stems from the legislative drive to get more data about the criminal justice system and the impact of suggested changes.
“This year, the Senate is partnered with the Florida State University College of Criminology and Criminal Justice to analyze the evidence based racial and ethnic impacts of proposed legislation during the 2020 session,” Chair Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, explained at the start of the meeting.
Dr. Thomas Blomberg, dean of the college, said the presentation gave the committee a look at 10 years of data and how the department used that to predict trends through 2023.
But, in an answer to a question from Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, that came midway through his testimony, Blomberg said the report did not look at underlying reasons for racial disparities in criminal justice outcomes.
“You talked about the disparity between blacks and whites in arrests, do you have any indications what’s causing that disparity?” Bracy asked.
Blomberg said he anticipated that question. “Here’s the best response I believe we can provide,” he said. “There’s a lot of literature that tries to address the known disparities between blacks and others in the criminal justice system. There’s two positions on that. Is it differential offending, or is it differential treatment? What the best literature says is it’s a combination of both. There is some differential offending, but there’s also differential treatment.”
For instance, he said African Americans have a lower arrest rate for cocaine and crack cocaine and, before it was legalized in many areas, for marijuana and about the same arrest rate for heroin as whites. On the other hand, they have a higher arrest rate for property and violent crimes.
“What many authors cautioned is, ‘Don’t necessarily conclude race is a driving factor, but rather economics,’” Blomberg said. “The role of race is a little more complicated than some people typically acknowledge.”
Data presented by Blomberg represented arrest and incarcerations records from 2009 through 2018, and expected trends for 2019 through 2023. Some of the statistics, he said, came from the Office of the State Courts Administrator, which only had African-American and white ethnic statistics, with Hispanics being divided between those two classifications. The Department of Corrections provided the rest of the information and had breakdowns for Hispanics, African Americans, and whites.
Trends and forecasts were based on the arrest and incarceration rate per 10,000 Floridians between the ages of 18-59.
Overall, the study found in 2018 whites made up 50.5% of the state’s population, Hispanics account for 28.8%, and African Americans make up 17.1% — while making up over half the prison population. Since 2009, that’s a 5.1% decrease for whites, a 11.8% increase for African Americans, and 33.3% increase for Hispanics. Those population trends are expected to continue for the next five years, Blomberg said.
Those aged 45-64 and 65 and above were the largest segments of the population, with those over 65 making up the fastest growing sector. Those 18-24 — the age group most likely to offend — was the smallest age contingent and also the slowest growing.
Other data showed:
• Unlike whites, blacks are more likely to be arrested for felonies than misdemeanors, although overall arrest rates for both categories are dramatically declining regardless of race. For those 18-59, the arrest rate for African Americans for misdemeanors was 5.12% in 2009, 3.07% in 2018, and is projected at 2.31% in 2023. Misdemeanor arrests for whites were 2.53% in 2009, 1.74% in 2018, and is projected at 1.41% in 2023. For felonies, the rate for African Americans was 5.46% in 2009, 3.8% in 2018, and is projected at 3.13% in 2023. For whites, the rate was 1.93% in 2009, 1.62% in 2018, and is projected at 1.57% in 2023.
• Jail sentences and probation for misdemeanors are declining for both whites and blacks, and by 2023 there is predicted to be little difference. Felony probation rates, though, are projected to rise with almost twice as many African Americans on felony probation as whites. Felony imprisonment rates have declined for blacks since 2009, and are projected to fall slightly by 2023, but still be at almost twice the level as felony jailings for whites, which have increased slightly since 2009, when the white imprisonment rate was less than a third of that for African Americans.
• The imprisonment rate for violent crimes is falling for whites, Hispanics, and especially African Americans, but is expected to remain much higher for African Americans by 2023. Imprisonment rates are also falling fast for property crimes for all three groups and the FSU statistical projection showed the property crime imprisonment rate for African Americans to be lower than for whites by 2023. Rates for both groups, though, are predicted to be higher than for Hispanics.
• Prison admissions from drug crimes have been declining slightly for whites and Hispanics and dramatically declining for African Americans, although they still have a higher incarceration rate for those infractions. By 2023, that rate is expected to approach that for whites, but still much higher than for Hispanics.
Perry said he expected to send several proposed bills to FSU shortly for their racial and ethnic impact statements, and Blomberg said it would take around five days to perform that analysis. That information will include, he said, any evidence from similar past legislation and experience with similar legislation in other states.
Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Miami, asked how the length of sentences have changed for similar offenses over the past 10 years, and Blomberg said that information would be compiled.
Blomberg also told the committee that the most effective tools for reducing recidivism are education for juvenile offenders and jobs for adults leaving prison.
“If they [juveniles] returned to school and stayed in school their recidivism plummeted,” he said. “The role of education and employment is clearly a turning point away from crime. If people have jobs, they’re not out committing crimes.”