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Study: Racial gap shrinking in jails, prisons

A study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics identified shrinking gaps in the numbers of African-Americans and Whites.

HOUSTON — The number of African-Americans behind bars, on probation or parole has dropped faster than that of Whites, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics analyzed by the Council on Criminal Justice. 

The group looked at 16 years of data from 2000-2016 published trends in a study released in December.

They identified shrinking gaps in the numbers of African-Americans and Whites. What was an eight to one margin state imprisonment margin in 2000, fell to five to one in 2016. The largest drop involved drug crimes.

“We’ve seen the drop since I took office in January (2017),” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said.

She said prosecutors now attack low-level drug possession differently. Ogg’s office runs a marijuana diversion program for people caught with less than four ounces willing to take classes instead of going to jail. Almost half in the program are black.

“Marijuana cases were 10 percent of the docket,” Ogg said. “(The county spent) $28 million a year.  Everyone agreed rape kits sitting on shelves, robbery cases where we needed more staff power that’s where they wanted us to go because that affects public safety.”

Prosecutors who refused to charge misdemeanor cases received letters from Texas Governor Greg Abbott in July.  He reminded them to enforce all laws faithfully.

If the CCJ study is right, justice may be happening more evenly.


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