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July 19, 2018
  • Authored by University of Miami sociologists, Unequal Treatment is a comprehensive analysis of recent data on Miami-Dade criminal justice system
  • Report finds disparities exist at every stage from arrest to sentencing, with Black defendants facing harshest outcomes
  • ACLU will meet with community leaders, law enforcement and public officials to discuss ways to reduce disparities

MIAMI - Race and ethnicity significantly impact the likelihood that a person will face harsher outcomes in the criminal justice system in Miami-Dade County, with Black defendants facing the worst disparities, according to a report published today by the ACLU of Florida. The report – Unequal Treatment: Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Miami-Dade Criminal Justice – finds that racial and ethnic disparities occur at all decision points in Miami-Dade County’s criminal justice system.

Unequal Treatment is the most comprehensive study of its kind looking at recent criminal justice data in Miami-Dade County. The report is a joint effort of the ACLU of Florida and its Greater Miami Chapter, and is authored by sociologists from the University of Miami. The report comprehensively analyzes racial and ethnic data on key decision-making points in the criminal justice system: arrests; bond and pretrial detention; charging and disposition decisions; and sentencing.

“This report, which has been three years in the making, is the product of a team of researchers from the University of Miami working with a committee of ACLU volunteers,” stated ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon.  “The report makes an invaluable contribution to the community by using the County’s own data to document what many believe based on anecdotal evidence -- that race and ethnicity shape a person’s treatment in the County’s criminal justice system. This report is about the outcome of systemic policies and practices that produce racial and ethnic disparities – policies, practices and outcomes that must be changed if there is to be justice in Miami-Dade’s criminal justice system.”

The report has its origins in 2015, following the epidemic of highly-publicized police shootings of Black men in Ferguson and elsewhere, when the ACLU of Florida’s Greater Miami Chapter made its first requests for demographic data on criminal defendants from the Miami-Dade Clerk of Court. Today’s publication of the report is the culmination of a three-year process of retrieving and analyzing data on all adult criminal defendants for the six year period of 2010 to 2015.

“We examined individual and neighborhood racial and ethnic disparities across multiple decision points within Miami-Dade County’s criminal justice system, uncovering racial and ethnic disparities at each of those decision points,” stated Nick Petersen, Ph.D., co-lead author on the report with Marisa Omori, Ph.D., both assistant professors of sociology at the University of Miami. Assisting Petersen and Omori was their research team of graduate students, including Roberto Cancio, Oshea Johnson, Rachel Lautenschlager, and Brandon Martinez.

“Our analysis found disparities at every decision point that result in advantages for White defendants and neighborhoods, and disadvantages for Black defendants and neighborhoods,” stated Omori.

The ACLU of Florida plans to use the report to advocate for changes in policies and practices to reduce the disparities.

“With this report, we have the data to demonstrate what people working in the community have known intuitively: that the criminal justice system in Miami-Dade County is harsher on people of color,” stated Jeanne Baker, chair of the ACLU of Florida Greater Miami Chapter’s police practices committee. “This report should not sit on a shelf, gathering dust. We are organizing meetings, not only with community leaders representing large numbers of directly impacted individuals, but also with law enforcement and local elected officials, to seek input, identify solutions, and change practices to create more fairness in how our county’s criminal justice system treats people.”

Among the key findings in the report:

  • Racial disparities occur at every stage of the criminal justice system, compounding and worsening the further a defendant goes through the system.
  • Black defendants, regardless of ethnicity, are overrepresented at every stage of the Miami-Dade criminal justice system, relative to their share of the county population.
  • Black Hispanics experience the most punitive outcomes, facing a 4x higher share of arrests in the county, and 6x higher share of the incarcerated population, relative to their share of the county population.
  • Racial and ethnic disparities also occur at the neighborhood level – there are higher rates of arrest,  pretrial  detention,  prosecution,  conviction,  and  incarceration  for  defendants arrested in Black  neighborhoods.
  • Black non-Hispanic defendants are sentenced to longer prison terms than any other racial or ethnic group.
  • White defendants who are Hispanic are the most under-represented in the County’s criminal justice system relative to their share of the population.

The report, along with infographics illustrating some of the key data, is available at: