A new publication from the Prosecution and Racial Justice Program (PRJ) of the Vera Institute of Justice surveys the literature on the relationship of race and ethnicity to prosecutorial decision making.
Do Race and Ethnicity Matter in Prosecution?—a review of 34 empirical studies on the relationship of race and ethnicity to prosecutorial decision making published between 1990 and 2011 in peer-reviewed journals—analyzes research that previously has been accessible primarily to scholars. The PRJ review, written for a broad audience, is intended to encourage additional research on this critical subject.
“No other actor in the criminal justice system drives case outcomes as profoundly as the prosecutor,” PRJ director Whitney Tymas writes in her introductory note. “Nevertheless, empirical research analyzing racial impacts of prosecutors’ routine choices on the thousands of defendants and victims with whom they interact daily has been scarce.”
Among the review’s key findings:
- Defendants’ and victims’ race appear to affect prosecutorial decisions. Most of the 34 studies reviewed found influences on case outcomes, even when other legal and extra-legal factors are taken into account.
- The effect of race and ethnicity on prosecutorial decision making is inconsistent.
- As compared to whites, it is not always blacks or Latinos and Latinas who receive more punitive treatment.