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Douglas County is incarcerating Black people at 6.5 times the rate of white people

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Rate is worse than it was two years ago, report shows

Black people are booked into the Douglas County jail at almost four times the rate of white people, and the incarceration rate of Black people in Douglas County is 6.5 times the rate of white people. 

Matt Cravens, senior data analyst for Douglas County, provided those statistics in an update to the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council on Tuesday. 

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Cravens’ last presentation on this topic was in June 2020, and the updated data shows that disparities for Black people in Douglas County have worsened over the past two years. 

The statistics in 2020 showed that Black people were booked into the jail at 3.1 times the rate of white people and incarcerated at about 4.7 times the rate of white people. The rate increases since then are about 25.8% and 38.2%, respectively. 

This chart shows booking rates, from Cravens’ presentations from 2020 and from Tuesday:

Bookings are often resolved within a few hours, according to Cravens’ presentation, so they represent everyone who comes in and out of the jail. But a look at the full population of the jail at a point in time — including people who have been there for days, weeks, months or years — reveals the incarceration rates. 

Looking at average lengths of stays at the jail reveals another large disparity. 

“Black people booked with District Court cases stay 26% longer than white people, on average, controlling for other variables,” Cravens’ presentation states. “Native American people booked with District Court cases stay 37% longer than white people.”

The booking rate for Hispanic people has also increased, from 1.3 to 1.6; however, the incarceration rate for Hispanic people has decreased from 1.3 to 1.0, according to Cravens’ presentation. 

Nationally, the incarceration rate for Black people is about 3.5 times higher than it is for white people, according to Cravens’ presentation, which cited Bureau of Justice statistics. 

Cravens said the incarceration rate for Black people has grown because Black people are making up a larger percentage of the jail population. The percentage of inmates who are Black has grown from 23% in 2019 to 26% in 2021 and 30% in 2022, Cravens said. 

“So the rise might be partially related to COVID, but the increase has been more significant in the past six months when COVID was less serious, so it’s unlikely to be entirely COVID related,” Cravens said. 

In addition, Bob Tryanski, director of behavioral health projects for the county, said the percentage of Black people awaiting competency restoration from state hospitals is “really, really high and skewed.” Cravens said about 73% of people awaiting beds at Larned State Hospital are Black.

Cravens shared a list of variables that are controlled in his analysis, including types of cases, numbers of charges, seriousness of alleged offenses and total numbers of bookings over the years. 

“We can say that even for people with the same type of offense, their race matters,” he said. 

Cravens said “we just don’t know” whether officers are more inclined to pull over Black drivers because of implicit bias, or, for example, Black drivers might have headlights out at a higher rate, and therefore might be stopped by law enforcement more often.

CJCC member Shaye Downing, a defense attorney, cautioned against using that type of language. 

“I think we need to be very careful about how that’s phrased,” she said. “I say that because that’s some terminology that’s been used in a lot of different circumstances that has made excuses for not changing what we need to change.

“And I’m not aware of any studies done that say that Black people are committing crimes more often than white people, or any other nationality. So I think we need to be very careful about interjecting those kinds of assumptions here,” Downing said. 

Downing pointed to the recent study of law enforcement contacts, which showed that Black people are searched at a higher rate than white people; however, the study also showed that Black people are less likely to be found with contraband than white people as the result of a search. 

Final data, which Cravens incorporated into his presentation Tuesday, showed that 21% of all Douglas County area law enforcement searches for the duration of the study were of Black people, compared to 65% of searches of white people. Researchers will return in August to share more of the results from that study. 

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Cravens said Downing made an excellent point, and he had mentioned the headlight example because when he’s given the same presentation to other folks, he’s been asked if that was possible. He said he didn’t want people to think 100% of the reason for the disparities was racial bias, but it was probably best not to say that.

The county has been working on several alternatives to incarceration over the past several years. Cravens’ presentation stated that Black people are offered pretrial release supervision at “at a similar rate as their share of the jail population. Other alternative-to-jail programs would be more equitable if they were offered to more Black individuals.” 

Specifically, Cravens said he thinks “judges would be more equitable if they offered house arrest to Black defendants at a little higher rate.” He also noted that referrals and admissions to and graduations from the county’s behavioral health court program are “very white-heavy,” as only 7% of behavioral health court graduates are Black. 

“Douglas County is progressive in many ways and does have a lower overall jail incarceration rate,” Cravens said, but the racial disparity in the incarceration rate “indicates a lot of room for improvement.” 

The next CJCC meeting is set for 11 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 9. The council is skipping its July meeting. Agendas are available at this link.

Cravens’ full presentation from Tuesday is below. The June 9, 2020 presentation is available at this link.

20220614-Racial-disparities-CJCC

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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Douglas County is incarcerating Black people at 6.5 times the rate of white people

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Black people are booked into the Douglas County jail at almost four times the rate of white people, and the incarceration rate of Black people in Douglas County is 6.5 times the rate of white people. 

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