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Preliminary Report on Race and Washington's Criminal Justice System

84 Pages Posted: 29 Nov 2011  

Robert S. Chang

Seattle University School of Law

Date Written: November, 29 2011


In this report, forthcoming in the law reviews of all three of Washington’s law schools (Gonzaga Law Review, Seattle University Law Review, and Washington Law Review), we present our findings on racial disproportionality in Washington’s criminal justice system. In 1980, of all states, Washington had the highest rate of disproportionate minority representation in its prisons. Today, minority racial and ethnic groups remain disproportionately represented in Washington State‘s court, prison, and jail populations, relative to their share of the state‘s general population. The fact of racial and ethnic disproportionality in our criminal justice system is indisputable. Following an assertion attributed to a justice on the Washington Supreme Court – that African Americans are overrepresented in the prison population because they commit a disproportionate number of crimes – a task force on race and the criminal justice system was convened. Its research working group focused on trying to answer why these disproportionalities exist. We examined differential commission rates, facially neutral policies, and bias as possible contributing causes. We reviewed research that focused on particular areas of Washington‘s criminal justice system, and our report concludes that much of the disproportionality is explained by facially neutral policies that have racially disparate effects. We also found that disproportionality also is explained in part by the prevalence of racial bias – whether explicit or implicit – and the influence of bias on decision-making within the criminal justice system.

Keywords: criminal justice system, racial disproportionality, police practices, pretrial detention, sentencing, explicit bias, implicit bias

Suggested Citation

Chang, Robert S., Preliminary Report on Race and Washington's Criminal Justice System (November, 29 2011). Gonzaga Law Review, Forthcoming; Seattle University Law Review, Forthcoming; Washington Law Review, Forthcoming; Seattle University School of Law Research Paper No. 11-30. Available at SSRN:

Robert S. Chang (Contact Author)

Seattle University School of Law ( email )

901 12th Avenue, Sullivan Hall
P.O. Box 222000
Seattle, WA n/a 98122-1090
United States

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