I read with interest the article regarding Probation Chief Heitman’s and Police Chief Melekian’s report on racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
I have a question about the methodology that led to their findings. The article reported, for example, “youth of color — who make up 63 percent of the county’s juvenile population — were 2.6 times more likely to be arrested than their white peers.” Does this mean that a young person of color who commits a specific offense is 2.6 times more likely to arrested than a white person who commits the same offense? If so, this is a definite sign of racism in our criminal justice system.
Or does this statistic mean that 2.6 times as many youth of color are arrested than white youth? If youth of color are 63 percent of the juvenile population, the implication is that the ratio should be 63:37 or only 1.7 times as likely. If this is the case, they are using a very poor analytical methodology — disparate impact. There is absolutely no cause and effect measured by this tool. For example, 75 percent of the basketball players in the NBA are black. Thirteen percent of the population is black. Does this imply the NBA is systemically discriminating against white people? Or are blacks, on average, better high-level basketball players? Two-thirds of speeding tickets are given to males. Men are slightly less than 50 percent of our population. Does this imply police are systemically prejudiced against men? Or do men drive faster and/or log more miles driving than women. Ninety percent of the inmates in prison are male. Does this imply the criminal justice system is systemically prejudiced against men? Or do men commit more crimes? You get the point. Disparate impact analysis is a bogus analytical methodology.
Martin Luther King hoped that one day his children would be measured by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. The analysis presented looks only at the color of people’s skin. It ignores the content of their character. Criminal activity is not caused by race or ethnicity or poverty. It is caused by criminal thinking.
If we’re serious about reducing crime, we need to look at what causes criminal thinking and what can reduce it. This is a much more difficult analysis than disparate impact but is one which will yield better results.