New Report: Recommendations to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Jails

June 25, 2015

Today, the Brennan Center for Justice releases a new report recommending key reforms that police, prosecutors, judges and parole and probation officers can make to reduce racial disparity in our criminal justice system.

Recent controversies in Baltimore, Md., Ferguson, Mo., Staten Island, N.Y., and most recently Charleston, S.C., have reopened the national debate on race, crime, and punishment. Part of that debate includes addressing the racial disparity apparent in our jails and prisons, where people of color are disproportionately represented.

The report’s recommendations, based on input from 25 criminal justice leaders, include increasing public defense representation for misdemeanor offenses, encouraging prosecutors to prioritize serious and violent offenses, limiting the use of pretrial detention, and requiring training to reduce racial bias for all those involved in running our justice system, among others. The reforms can be implemented now without legislative approval.

“Not only do we live in an era of reduced crime, we also live in an era of excessive incarceration,” Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts wrote in a foreword to the report. “We lock up too many – especially people of color – for too long, without a clear public safety rationale. This report provides local actors with a roadmap to modernize how we enforce criminal laws.”

“One in three African American men born today will be incarcerated in his lifetime. In some cities, African Americans are ten times more likely to be arrested when stopped by police,” said author Jessica Eaglin. “These reforms can help stem the uneven flow of people of color into jails.”

“Mass incarceration is a phenomenon that lives across the federal, state, and local levels,” said Inimai Chettiar, director of the Brennan Center's Justice Program. “But local jails are the entry point into the criminal justice system for many, if not most, who become entangled in it. As a result, reforms that reduce disparities in jails can have a wide-ranging impact.” 

“Reducing racial disparities in our jails is not impossible. These recommendations provide jurisdictions with workable solutions to reduce disparities in our jails,” said author Danyelle Solomon. “Local actors should step up and implement these reforms.”

Read the full report here.

For more information or to schedule an interview, contact Seth Hoy at or (513) 410-5725.