Report On Disparities and the Criminal Justice System Finds That Lack of Data Leads to Bad Policy

ACLU of Northern California and the Burns Institute Tracked Disparities in Housing, Employment and Education Related to Criminal Justice System Involvement

Media Contact:, (415) 621-2493

Article Media

San Francisco – Today the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU-NC) and the W. Haywood Burns Institute released a report that explores how racial, ethnic, and gender disparities in access to education, employment, and housing impact the contact people will have with the criminal justice system. The report, "Balancing the Scales of Justice," found that these factors relate to how likely it is someone will be incarcerated, and that lack of data collection hinders the ability to address this problem. The report focused on three California counties: Alameda, Fresno, and Los Angeles counties.

"The lack of meaningful data means that lawmakers are creating policies without fully understanding the racial, ethnic, and gender impact of their decisions," said Diana Tate Vermeire, Racial Justice Project Director at ACLU of Northern California, and a co-author of the study. "Yet, those decisions will have a lasting impact on people who do not have access to the basic necessities of a quality education, a job, and adequate housing."

"We know that children, youth and adults of color are more likely to wind up in jail, and our report indicates that disparities outside the criminal justice system create or reinforce those same disparities within it," said James Bell, Executive Director of the Burns Institute.

The organizations also interviewed people on probation in the three counties to collect first-hand stories of people's life experiences before and after contact with police, jails, or prison.

Among the findings:

  • Of the people interviewed, those who attended school where police officers regularly patrolled campus had a greater likelihood of being arrested at a young age, expelled, and suspended.

  • The number of women – both women of color and white women – in the criminal justice system is increasing at a much faster rate than that of men.

  • Nearly two-thirds of the people interviewed reported they had inadequate income at the time of their arrest, and around 20% indicated that they turned to crime to help make ends meet.

  • In Alameda County, people on probation were less likely to have graduated high school, compared to the county average.

  • In Fresno County, with a county unemployment rate of less than 10%, 29% of men interviewed and 59% of women interviewed were unemployed at the time of their most recent arrest. Nearly 21% of the Black labor force in Fresno County is unemployed, but 64% of Black interviewees were unemployed at the time of their most recent arrest.

Among the report's recommendations:

  • A standardized collection method is needed for county data on education, employment, and housing to allow state and local officials to make data-driven decisions that could improve the effectiveness of policies, as well as reduce racial, ethnic, and gender disparities.

  • Additional and more extensive research is needed regarding the connection between access to the basic necessities of a quality education, employment, and housing and the increase in California's prison population, and the correlating racial, ethnic, gender, and age disparities.

  • Social scientists should study the effects of police presence on public school campuses by collecting and analyzing quantitative and qualitative data. In addition, any future research should include an analysis of alternatives to policing in schools.

The ACLU of Northern California works to preserve and guarantee the protections of the Constitution's Bill of Rights.

The W. Haywood Burns Institute (BI) is a San Francisco-based national juvenile justice nonprofit that works to address racial and ethnic disparities in the United States juvenile justice system.

Learn more:

Download the report »

Download the report summary »

File Under

Main Article Content