SJC Hosts Twitter Chat on Racial Disparities During Black History Month

By: Matt Davis

Costs Featured Jurisdictions Racial Disparities March 4, 2021

Marshall Project Staff Writer Jamiles Lartey hosted a recent Twitter chat on strategies for addressing racial equity in our criminal justice system as part of the Safety and Justice Challenge’s commemoration of Black History Month.

From ending cash bail to empowering impacted communities in criminal justice reform, to replacing police with community response models for crimes better handled without a law enforcement response, the conversation emphasized ways to hold the system more accountable for racial disparities and to reduce them.

A broad group of participants joined the chat from prosecutors to defenders, and from academics to activists. It took place under the hashtag #RethinkJailsChat, and you can review the whole thing by going to Twitter and searching for the hashtag or simply clicking here.

Some attendees included:

@RashadRobinson — Color of Change President Rashad Robinson
@ResLegalDiva — Melba Pierson, Policy Director at the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs at Florida International University
@DrAprylA — Dr. Apryl Alexander, Associate Professor at the University of Denver Grad School
@JustLeadersUSA — Just Leadership USA — a national nonprofit led directly by impacted people
@PhillyDefenders — the Defender Association of Philadelphia
@CUNYISLG — the Institute for State and Local Governance at City University of New York
@JamiraBurley — activist and social impact strategist Jamira Burley
@APAinc —the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys
@NLADA — National Legal Aid and Defender Association
@AA_Consults — Consultant and trainer for education, empowerment and equity, Alexandra Arrington
@AntiRecidivism — The anti-recidivism coalition

Mr. Lartey set the tone by citing sobering recent research on Black imprisonment in the United States.

To open, Mr. Lartey linked to a recent report published by the Institute for State and Local Governance showing that overall booking rates are down, but that racial disparities persist. He asked how we can make criminal justice reform more inclusive.

Color of Change President Rashad Robinson, @RashadRobinson, emphasized the importance of holding key decision makers accountable for how they enable a system “designed to incarcerate BIPOC at higher rates.”

The Defender Association of Philadelphia, @PhillyDefenders, stressed the importance of empowering and encouraging involvement from people in most-impacted communities in criminal justice reform.

The next question focused on a 2018 report from the Prison Policy Initiative that found the “prison penalty” in unemployment disproportionately punishes formerly incarcerated Black men and women, Mr. Lartey asked: “Where are some other places we see this kind of racial disparity play out?”

Responses included disproportionate stops by the police of BIPOC individuals, jail populations, housing and education prospects, all contributing to a “cycle of desperation.”

Next, the discussion moved to focus on civilian responder models. A 2020 study from Police For Reform and the Center for American Progress found that between 33 and 68 percent of police calls for service could be handled without sending an armed officer to the scene.

“Many feel civilian first responders can help reduce overreliance on police & racial disparities in policing + arrests. The “CAHOOTS” program is a popular example,” Mr. Lartey wrote, linking to an article at The Marshall Project on the program in Eugene, Oregon.

He asked: “Do these kinds of civilian responder programs hold promise for reducing the disparate impact of the criminal justice system? What are some other possible solutions you think are worth mentioning?”

There was broad support for such models, and also, a call for deeper investment in the social safety net.
As stated in @MarshallProj’s The System, “rollbacks in the social safety net, growing income inequality & deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill” have all played into our current policing issues. We have to invest in alternative systems of care & support.#RethinkJailsChat

— Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (@APAinc) February 25, 2021

Next, the conversation concluded by pivoting to bail reform, citing a recent report by Loyola University, which found that bail reform measures in Cook County increased the number of people released pretrial & was not associated with any significant change in the rate of criminal activity.

Mr Lartey asked:  What could findings like this mean for the prospect of bolder action on bail moving forward, or the spread of reform efforts? Could more findings like this stem the political backlash that reform efforts often meet?

The question drew an emphatic response:


—Matt Davis is a communications consultant supporting the Safety and Justice Challenge blog.