Commissioners to Discuss Racial Disparities in County Jail

July 21, 2017
The Austin Chronicle

Grassroots Leadership report indicates detainees of color face inequalities

County Commissioners will hold a work session July 27 to discuss the county's pretrial programs and ways to better address racial disparities at the county jail, a direct response to a report issued July 13 by Grassroots Leadership. The local activist organization used the county's 2015 booking data to conclude that black people face disproportionately longer jail stays and are incarcerated at a higher rate than their white counterparts charged with the same crimes. County Judge Sarah Eckhardt told the Chronicle that while she's not surprised by the report's findings, she and County Commissioners are taking it "very seriously."

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Despite these diversions, minorities are still experiencing higher rates of incarceration. While accounting for only 8% of Travis County's population, black people in 2015 represented 22% of jail bookings. As for days spent in jail, on average, white detainees were locked up for 16.88 days, while black detainees were held an average of 22.53 days. Eckhardt called the report "helpful" and said the county will continue to analyze it. "Unfortunately, there's no silver bullet for institutionalized racism," she said. "We have to acknowledge that sentencing is different for brown and black people and start having really uncomfortable conversations." Eckhardt said the county must question whether or not the pretrial program is improving lives or further entangling people in the criminal justice system.

"We've been asking this from a race neutral standpoint because we thought race neutral would fix it, but it's not working. We need to ask if this is better or worse for defendants of color."