A new report released last week calls the popular narrative that Minnesota’s criminal justice system is biased against black offenders a “myth.”
“The narrative of unwarranted racial disparities in Minnesota’s criminal justice system is well entrenched but this new offender data from the BCA exposes this narrative as a myth,” said report author David Zimmer, a policy fellow at the Center of the American Experiment and retired 33-year veteran of the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office.
Zimmer’s report “follows serious offenders (those most likely to go to prison) through the system in 2021 from identification as offenders, through arrests, charging, sentencing, and incarceration. It also represents a unique examination of criminal justice system data — offender data by race. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) began collecting and reporting this data for the first time in 2021.”
This new data “tracked offender activity at the earliest stage of the system for the first time,” the center explained in a press release. “By changing the denominator from general population to offender population, the racial disparities actually favor black offenders, contrary to popular opinion.”
The report says it is “misleading” to use “the general population rather than the offender population as the denominator in this calculation.”
When using the general population as the denominator, “the result of that mathematical calculation indicates adult black Minnesotans are incarcerated 9.6 times more than adult white Minnesotans,” the report says.
“That calculation is technically accurate and the disparity it reflects should be something of profound societal interest to eliminate. However, this calculation is not helpful in determining whether the criminal justice system is responsible for creating or exacerbating the disparity,” it explains.
Instead, “a more accurate and relevant evaluation of disparities within the criminal justice system comes by comparing the proportion of a racial group within the control of the system to the offender population, not the general population,” the report argues.
When looking at the issue this way, “the disparities in arrest, charging, and incarceration rates consistently disfavored whites throughout each subsequent stage of the criminal justice system, with few exceptions,” according to the report.
For instance, white offenders were 1.8 times more likely to be charged with a serious offense and, from there, 1.5 times more likely to receive a pronounced prison sentence than black offenders, the report says.
“It is time for policymakers to recognize that Minnesota’s criminal justice system is not creating unwarranted disparities disfavoring black offenders. Responding as if it does, and altering the system to favor black offenders over white offenders is a misguided effort,” Zimmer concludes his report. “It weakens short-term accountability in the black community, and derails, delays, and underfunds efforts to apply long-term solutions toward the social disparities that arguably fuel the disproportionate amount of black criminal offending, and black victimization.”
Read the full report here.