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A Report to the NAACP Syracuse/Onondaga Chapter on
Racial Disparities in the Local Criminal Justice System

March 2001
by Alan Rosenthal

Overview

The data from the 2000 census provide an opportunity to look at racial disparities in our local criminal justice system.

The population in Onondaga County declined by 2.3% since the 1990 census. The population of Onondaga County is now 458,336. Of that population, 9.4% are African Americans. Although African Americans are a relatively small percentage of the total County population, they compose a disproportionately high percentage of those who are arrested and sentenced to jail and prison.

Much has been said and written about racial profiling and selective targeting and enforcement by the police. Police practices account for only part of the racial disproportion in the criminal justice system.

In 1999, although African Americans made up only 9.4% of Onondaga County’s population, African Americans constituted 41% of all those arrested. In that same year, Whites represented 55% of those arrested, yet they made up 84.8% of the County population. Clearly the disproportion begins with the arrest policies. However, the disparate treatment by the criminal justice system does not stop there.

A review of the racial composition of the Onondaga County Correctional Facility (OCCF), where men and women arrested in Onondaga County are sentenced to up to one year jail terms, shows a racial disproportion that extends beyond the disparity caused by arrest policies. In 1999, 1516 people were sentenced to serve jail terms in OCCF. In a County that is only 9.4% African American, and in which 41% of those arrested were African American, we end up with African Americans constituting 52.2% of those admitted to jail at OCCF in 1999. Of the adults sentenced to jail in Onondaga County in 1999, African Americans constituted 56%.

The disproportion is even greater when we look at the harsher sentence of State prison. In 1999, 60% of the men and women sentenced to State prison from Onondaga County were African American.

The disproportion shifts the other way when we analyze the more lenient sentence of probation. According to the 1999 Annual Report of the Onondaga County Probation Department, only 36% of those sentenced to probation during 1999 were African Americans. At the same time, Whites constituted 44% of those admitted to OCCF with jail sentences but 58% of those sentenced to probation.

A review of how courts have treated Youthful Offenders--youth between the ages of 14 and 18--reveals an even greater racial disparity. The cumulative data for Onondaga County between 1995-1999 show that of the 1813 young people adjudicated to be Youthful Offenders by the Courts, 49% were African American and 47% were White. Yet when one looks at the percentage of those given straight jail sentences, we find an astounding 77% of those given jail sentences were African American and 19% were White. African Americans were four times more likely to receive a straight jail sentence as a Youthful Offender than their White counterparts. They were sentenced to probation in equal proportions, but the more lenient sentence of a Conditional Discharge was distributed 60% to White Youthful Offenders and 37% to African American Youthful Offenders.

This racial disparity is repeated in County after County so that we have a State prison system that is approximately 50% African American and 34% Hispanic in a State that is 15.9% African American and 15.1% Hispanic.

The disparity is most dramatic as it relates to drug offenses. According to almost any study one looks at, the use of illegal drugs is about the same percentage across racial and ethnic lines. In New York that means that for every one African American using illegal drugs there are four Whites using illegal drugs.

According to the 1998 FBI Uniform Crime Report, the percentage of arrests for drug offenses is equally distributed between Whites and African Americans. A review of new commitments to New York State prisons in 1998 shows a startling disproportion. Only 5% of all the new commitments to State prison for drug offenses were White, while African Americans and Hispanics made up 94% of the new commitments for drug offenses.

The "war on crime" and the "war on drugs" is disproportionately affecting communities of color and poor communities. The racial disparity is affected by racial attitudes, and not just racial attitudes of the police. It is affected by who gets bail, who can hire an attorney, victims' racial attitudes, and race may affect decisions by the Assistant District Attorney handling the case, the Probation Officer making sentencing recommendations and the sentencing Judge.

As of 1997, Onondaga County spent $38,382.00 per year per prisoner to keep them locked up at the Onondaga County Correctional Facility and only 8,883.00 per pupil for a year of public education. It is time to reassess our priorities.

DEMOGRAPHICS
2000


Source: U.S. Census Bureau

 

ARRESTS BY RACE AND CRIME TYPE
Onondaga County
2000


Source: DCJS, Computerized Criminal History system (2/2001)

 

ONONDAGA COUNTY CORRECTIONAL FACILITY
Admissions by Race
1999

African American 792 52.2%
Caucasian 667 44.0%
Hispanic 27 1.8%
Native American 24 1.6%
Other 6 0.4%

Total 1516 100.0%

Source: Onondaga County Department of Corrections 1999 Annual Report

 

ONONDAGA COUNTY CORRECTIONAL FACILITY
Number of Criminal Court Probationers
Received During 1999 by "Race"


While Blacks are 52% of the prisoners sentenced to jail, they are only 36% of those sentenced to probation and only 9% of the county population. Whites are 44% of the prisoners sentenced to jail, but are 58% of those sentenced to probation and 85% of the county population.

Source: Onondaga County Probation Department 1999 Annual Report

 

YOUTHFUL OFFENDER ADJUDICATION BY AGE,
GENDER, RACE AND SENTENCE
Onondaga County
1995-1999 Cumulative


Source: DCJS

 

ONONDAGA COUNTY ADULT ARRESTS BY RACE/ETHNICITY


3-YEAR AVERAGE
55% of arrestees were White
41% of arrestees were Black
3% of arrestees were Hispanic

Source: DCJS, Computerized Criminal History System (11/00)

 

ONONDAGA COUNTY ADULT SENTENCE BY RACE/ETHNICITY
SENTENCE TYPE: Prison

3-YEAR AVERAGE
31% of people sentenced to state prison were White
61% of people sentenced to state prison were Black
6% of people sentenced to state prison were Hispanic

Source: DCJS, Computerized Criminal History System (11/00)

 

ONONDAGA COUNTY ADULT SENTENCE BY RACE/ETHNICITY
SENTENCE TYPE: Jail

3-YEAR AVERAGE
40% of people sentenced to jail were White
52% of people sentenced to jail were Black
4% of people sentenced to jail were Hispanic

Source: DCJS, Computerized Criminal History System (11/00)

 

ONONDAGA COUNTY ADULT SENTENCE BY RACE/ETHNICITY
SENTENCE TYPE: Probation

3-YEAR AVERAGE
57% of those given probation were White
39% of those given probation were Black
3% of those given probation were Hispanic

Source: DCJS, Computerized Criminal History System (11/00)

 

ONONDAGA COUNTY ADULT SENTENCE BY RACE/ETHNICITY
SENTENCE TYPE: Fine

3-YEAR AVERAGE
85% of those fined were White
12% of those fined were Black
1% of those fined were Hispanic

Source: DCJS, Computerized Criminal History System (11/00)

 

ONONDAGA COUNTY ADULT SENTENCE BY RACE/ETHNICITY
SENTENCE TYPE: Conditional Discharge

3-YEAR AVERAGE
53% of those receiving conditional discharge were White
43% of those receiving conditional discharge were Black
3% of those receiving conditional discharge were Hispanic

Source: DCJS, Computerized Criminal History System (11/00)

 

ONONDAGA COUNTY 1999
African Americans as a Proportion of . . .


  Population Arrested Sentenced to Jail Sentenced to Prison Sentenced to Probation

Sources: 2000 Census; DCJS; Onondaga County Probation Department 1999 Annual Report

 

ONONDAGA COUNTY CORRECTIONAL FACILITY
Cost Per Inmate 1996-1999

Local Dollar Expense:

Local Dollar Expense, Excluding All Interdepartmentals:


Source: Onondaga County Department of Correction 1999 Annual Report

 

ONONDAGA COUNTY--1997


Sources: NYS Education Department; Onondaga County Department of Correction

 

CRIME BY ETHNIC STATUS
1998 New Commitments
New York State Department of Correctional Services


Source: New York State Department of Correctional Services

 

AFRICAN AMERICAN PROPORTION OF YOUTH

Note: Reflects 1998 population; 1998 arrests; 1997 information on referrals, detentions, petitions, adjudications and waivers; 1997 residential placement; and 1997 state prison admissions.

Sources: U.S. Bureau of the Census' Population Estimates for States by Age, Sex, Race and Hispanic Origin: 1980-1998; OJJDP's Juvenile Arrests: 1998; OJJDP's Easy Access to Juvenile Court Statistics: 1988-1997; OJJDP's Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 1999 National Report; and BJS's Profile of State Prisons Under Age 18: 1985-1997.

NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF
CORRECTIONAL SERVICES
New Commitments--1998 Ethnic Group


Source: New York State Department of Correctional Services

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