City receives grant to study race in our criminal justice system

Rory Carpenter, who works in the city’s human services department, is seeking a grant to compile information from different sectors of the criminal justice system. File photo Rory Carpenter, who works in the city’s human services department, is seeking a grant to compile information from different sectors of the criminal justice system. File photo

Charlottesville City Council moved a step closer last week to launching the most comprehensive study ever undertaken in Virginia on the role race plays in the criminal justice system.

The city was recently awarded a $90,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Human Services to begin collecting data on the rate that African-American adults enter the criminal justice system in Charlottesville and Albemarle County compared to white adults, and whether that rate is proportional to their population sizes.

City officials are asking the city for a $10,000 local match. If awarded, this would make a total of $100,000 to fund a yearlong study of what’s known as disproportionate minority contact, or DMC.

Kaki Dimock, the city’s director of human services, says most of that money would be spent collecting data. Each juncture of the criminal justice system—the police departments, the commonwealth’s attorneys, pretrial services, the courts and magistrate’s offices, the regional jail, state prisons, probation services—collects its own data.

The goal of the funding is to use the data to paint a comprehensive picture of how a person’s race correlates to his experience within the criminal justice system. Human Services will subcontract through Offender Aid and Restoration, with likely help from the Justice Management Institute, a Virginia-based nonprofit.

“Once we start to get some data in, then we’ll engage a larger steering committee and community engagement group to help assess and understand where the problems are and then design and try to implement some solutions,” says Dimock, adding that it will likely take at least a year to get to that stage.

The push to study adults follows the city’s unprecedented study of juveniles, which found that African-American youth are arrested, placed on probation, stopped and frisked, and jailed at a higher rate than their white peers, despite making up a minority of the city’s population. For two years, a city task force studied the issue, and it has implemented a series of more than a dozen actions to address the disproportionality.

Task force and community members have called for a study of the adult criminal justice system, arguing that children often emulate adults.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Dave Chapman says he hopes the funding will help develop a template by which the data sets are streamlined, so that not only can Charlottesville and Albemarle continue to monitor DMC with minimal additional effort, but that other jurisdictions in Virginia could also use the model to conduct similar studies.

“I think that, in this day and age, it’s critically important to do things like eliminate unmerited differences on the basis of race or other factors in the criminal justice system and be able to, with evidence, understand whether what you’re doing is working in terms of improving outcomes,” said Chapman.

At a minimum, two years of funding is needed to effectively begin studying the issue, city officials say. The city is eligible for a second $90,000 state grant, but must apply again when the initial year of study nears completion. The required local match could come from the city again or the county.

City Council is expected to vote on whether to approve the first year’s $10,000 in funding at its next meeting November 21.