The fact that minorities tend to be a higher fraction of the incarcerated population than they are of the arrest population suggests that racial differences arise (or widen) once arrested individuals enter the criminal court system. To investigate this, the proposed project will exploit a new data set on all felony arrests filed in Virginia between 2011 through 2015; the data are unique in that they allow each arrest charge to be followed through the court system to its final disposition. The primary aim of the proposed project is to determine if racial disparities exist in primary outcomes of cases that originate with the same initial arrest charges and criminal history. In particular, the analyses will reveal whether felony cases for minorities are less likely to have their initial charges amended downwards or dismissed, are more likely to result in incarceration, and are more likely to result in longer sentence lengths. The second aim proposes to separately evaluate whether there are racial disparities at each of the intermediate stages of the Virginia criminal court process, including the initial prosecutor charging stage, the grand jury stage, and the adjudication stage.
The results found here should be of substantial interest to policymakers who are interested in identifying concrete factors as to why racial disparities in incarceration rates are so high. Further, to the extent one finds that racial disparities are widening at key stages in the court process where prosecutors have the decision making authority, it suggests standards may need to be developed regarding the discretion prosecutors are allowed to have in their charging decisions and plea offers. The final product will be a journal article and a research brief that will disseminate the results to academic researchers, policymakers, practitioners, and the general public. ca/ncf