Understanding & Reducing Racial &Ethnic Disparities in the Kings County District Attorney’s Office: A Research Proposal

The CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance will collaborate with the Kings County District Attorney to demonstrate and understand trends and patterns resulting from Justice 2020, the DA’s comprehensive reform initiative to keep Brooklyn safe while ensuring fairness and equal justice for all.

Inequalities in the justice system have been widely documented, and some writers argue that prosecutorial decision making has been a major driver of mass incarceration, which disproportionately affects persons of color, especially African American males. The newly elected Brooklyn DA, Eric Gonzales, has pledged to use his office to implement reforms that will reduce these disparities, such as not prosecuting school offenses, not charging for possessing small quantities of marijuana, not seeking cash bail on a routine basis, and minimizing collateral immigration consequences for low-level offenses. Some of the reforms are specific to the youth and young adult population, including a young adult court established in 2016, and about one third of cases accepted by the Brooklyn DA involve young people ages 16-25. Also under Justice 2020, the DA intends to consolidate all reforms and practices focused on young adults under one unit. Although these reforms are grounded in recent research, the data infrastructure to examine their implementation, let alone their consequences, is minimal. This project aims to rectify that situation by creating a data infrastructure and analytic capacity and examining the implementation and trends associated with the policy reforms. The collaboration between the DA’s office and the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance (ISLG) has two components. First, to establish a foundation for data-driven decision making, ISLG will help the DA’s office identify and implement measures to improve data and analytical capacity to track, analyze, and use data that address disparity reductions and other Justice 2020 reforms and goals. Second, building on this foundation, ISLG will carry out research on drivers and inhibitors of racial and ethnic disparities that can be used to establish a baseline understanding of what disparities look like, against which progress can be measured, and establish further points of intervention. Administrative data will be developed at key prosecutorial decision points, including case review and acceptance, charging, bail decisions, plea bargaining, and court processing. Taking into account characteristics of both defendants and alleged crimes, multivariate analyses will examine whether the timing of specific reforms coincide with diminishing race/ethnic disparities in prosecutorial decisions. Qualitative analyses will provide greater insight into decisions that cannot be easily examined with quantitative techniques, such as plea bargaining, and will provide deeper understanding of patterns that emerge in the quantitative results. The Justice 2020 initiative holds promise to be a national model for implementing and examining equitable prosecution, along with similar efforts being undertaken by other progressive prosecutors in cities like Milwaukee, San Francisco, and Philadelphia. The collaboration with ISLG is a unique model of a research-practice partnership in the justice system that could serve as an example for other boroughs in New York and other cities nation-wide. The John and Laura Arnold Foundation is matching this award with a grant in the same amount.

Subscribe for Updates