JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - State Attorney Melissa Nelson addressed a study on Monday that finds white people are receiving more diversion program opportunities and African Americans are getting more cases dismissed.
The data came from a collaborative effort by Florida International University and the MacArthur Foundation. The study could be the model for researching how other states prosecute and track trends.
From 2017 to 2018, 88,000 cases were analyzed from Duval, Nassau and Clay counties focusing on race and prosecution. The study claims "overall, the influence of race or ethnicity was minimal."
"It confirms what prosecutors working hard every day believe, that they are not looking at the different decision points -- decisions based on race," Nelson said.
However, there were some discrepancies by race. According to the study, white defendants were more likely to receive custodial sentences for felony and property offenses. It found black defendants were more likely to receive custodial sentences for felony drug cases.
In addition, the research found black defendants were more likely than Hispanics and Whites to have cases dismissed, while white defendants were more likely to be enrolled in diversion programs.
Judge Brian Davis is optimistic about the use of data in criminal justice.
"Excited about the fact that prosecutors and justice system players are starting to look to data to answer questions," Davis said.
Looking closely at the data reveals thousands of cases are not counted because they don't fall into one of the three felony categories, prompting a question of how accurate the data is.
Jacksonville attorney Randy Reep believes the data should have been analyzed differently.
"The numbers are very narrow, but I have a feeling if we looked at which cases get diverted, it's maybe because they have an advocate going in there to the state attorney, to the court saying this is why this person's situation is so unique," Reep said.
Nelson is optimistic that the data analysis will help end any racial disparities in the judicial system.
"We came to this work with the goal: Where can we improve?" Nelson said. "While not surprising, there were definitely findings in this work that have allowed us to immediately take some actions to do just that."
The State Attorney's Office is looking at the standards for its diversion program.
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