Race and Discretion in the Criminal Legal System

A top priority for the Center is advancing justice in the criminal legal system. Qualitative experience and quantitative data demonstrate that racial disparities persist at every stage of the criminal legal system.

Disparities can be the product of biases in the exercise of discretion by system actors, including police officers, prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys, pretrial, probation, and parole officials. We understand that the negative impact of decision-making in the criminal legal system is demonstrably worse and implicates more bias when those decisions are made without oversight, in areas of the law that are under-appreciated, and rendered against populations that are underserved and marginalized. The focus of the Center’s criminal justice work is on helping actors in the criminal legal system make decisions that account for their racial bias in order to advance justice. We also work to reform the systems, institutions and the policies that guide them that perpetuate racial injustice and inequitable outcomes. 

Parole in New York State

The Center is working to reduce the racial disparities that pervade parole release decisions in New York State. Parole provides a particularly stubborn example of the ways in which discretion invites biased decision-making and drives mass incarceration. The Center is working to diagnose and address the causes of racial disparities in parole hearing releases through rigorous data analysis and research. By unpacking the root causes of disparate outcomes that result from the current process, we aim to shape viable solutions that address racial disparities in the decision-making process and, ultimately, reduce the prison population in New York State. 

Amicus Submissions

  • Amicus submission in Singleton v. Cannizzaro, which challenged the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office practice of issuing fake subpoenas to crime victims and witnesses
  • Amicus submission in the Supreme Court case Edwards v. Vannoy, which will determine whether the Court's decision in Ramos v. Louisiana, which barred non-unanimous jury verdicts--a rule rooted in racial animus--will extend to those whose cases are on federal collateral review 
  • Amicus submission on behalf of Jalil Muntaqim and several other medically vulnerable people incarcerated in New York state prisons seeking release due to the coronavirus pandemic

Articles and Events