Long before George Floyd and other racial injustices surfaced, I was concerned with the over representation of people of color in the criminal justice system. I commissioned an independent research study to explore whether any racial and ethnic disparities appeared in how our office prosecutes cases. In undertaking this work, I had two important goals: to ensure fair and equal justice and treatment for all, and to gain your trust by being transparent.
I am pleased, but not surprised, that the report did not find racial or ethnic disparities in our overall plea bargaining and resolution of felony cases. Review of case files and administrative data showed no differences between Black, Hispanic and White defendants in general plea dispositions of cases. It did show that we need to dive deeper into some limited areas of discrepancy, specifically in dismissals, deferred judgments, and referrals to drug court. However, there was no overall indication that those issues were based on racial bias. The report makes recommendations that I am committed to pursuing and some that were already underway prior to the report’s release.
The real gift of this research is that it is sparking conversations internally and externally. Colorado’s elected district attorneys from small, medium and large jurisdictions, Republicans and Democrats are now discussing the prosecutors' role in correcting racial disparities in our work. It is encouraging to hear commitment, determination and innovation as DAs consider how to improve many facets of a cumbersome system.