TAMPA, Fla. — Racial bias is not a factor in how district attorneys in the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office prosecute cases, according to a new report.
- 87,000 cases reviewed inside 13th Judicial Circuit
- Only 4 DA offices in country allowed access to files
- LINK: 13th Judicial District website
- More Hillsborough County headlines
Researchers with Florida International University and Loyola University spent months combing through 87,000 cases inside the 13th Judicial Circuit. The "Advancing Prosecutorial Effectiveness and Fairness Report" was completed in late June and released this week concluded any appearance of racial bias was either minimal or non-existent.
According to the findings, whites were most likely and blacks least likely to have cases filed by prosecutors. For every 1,000 cases brought to the State Attorney's Office with whites, 912 were filed. For Hispanics and blacks, the number was 910 and 905, respectively.
"Overall, it's showing that we're doing a really good job in terms of minimizing racial disparities that we know exist in the system," said 13th District State Attorney Andrew Warren. "We're not contributing to them in our office in a significant way."
Warren allowed his office to take part in this independent review. Hillsborough County is one of four district attorney's offices in the country to give researchers unprecedented access to two years of case files.
"This is a groundbreaking project," he said. "We are rewriting a blueprint for how prosecutor's office measures its performance in the 21st century. We're talking about measuring how we hold defendants accountable, reducing recidivism and supporting victims."
However, the findings also show areas where there were disparities among race. When it came to drug possession, blacks were most likely to have charges filed, followed by Hispanics and then whites. But when based on the numbers of how many cases were filed overall among those racial and ethnic groups, the different was not significant.
Warren says this report shows where changes could be made in terms of sentencing.
"We have so many people coming through the system who we don't need to be necessarily tough on," Warren said. "We want to make sure that we're attacking the underlying problem."
Criminal justice reform has become a central issue in the U.S. where 2.2 million of its citizens are incarcerated — the most of anywhere in the world. Pastor Glenn Dames, senior pastor with Allen Temple AME Church in Tampa has long called for alternative sentencing and while he hasn't read the report, he praises Warren for allowing the research to be conducted.
"I commend the State Attorney's Office," Dames said. "I think there's still more work to do but I think this is a good first start and a good first step."
Warren hopes the information in the report could change how cases are prosecuted.
"We hope that over five to 10 years, this becomes the standard for offices, not just around the state, but around the country as well," Warren said.
The research project was part of a $1.5 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation. Prosecutors in Chicago, Jacksonville and Milwaukee are also allowing their offices to take part in this research.