Racial Bias in Florida Sentencing

Does Racial Bias in Florida Sentencing exist?

We would all like to think Racial Bias in Florida Sentencing doesn’t exist. However, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune recently published an article titled “Bias on the Bench” following a year of analyzing sentencing data in Florida. “The Herald-Tribune spent a year reviewing tens of millions of records in two state databases — one compiled by the state’s court clerks that tracks criminal cases through every stage of the justice system and the other by the Florida Department of Corrections that notes points scored by felons at sentencing. Reporters examined more than 85,000 criminal appeals, read through boxes of court documents and crossed the state to interview more than 100 legal experts, advocates and criminal defendants.”

The results of the investigation are shocking, though unfortunately, not surprising. Black defendants with the same charges, prior records, and point scores as white defendants were sentenced to more time all over the Sunshine State. For example, the study revealed that for 3rd degree felonies, white judges sentenced black defendants to 20 percent more jail time than white defendants. Here locally in Okaloosa County, the results showed that white defendants were sentenced to an average of five months in jail for battery, while similarly situated black defendants were sentenced to an average of nearly a year in jail.

The article also provides access to all the data, which includes a county-by-county break down of the results. In Escambia County a black defendant will receive 48% more time in jail than a similarly-situated white defendant for felony drug possession charges. Truly jaw-dropping. If you are reading this then you are interested enough that you should spend a few minutes and check out the project.

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