Black, Hispanic and Homeless People Face Discrimination in Boulder County Criminal Courts, Study Finds
Shelly Bradbury, Denver Post, July 26, 2022
Black and Hispanic people in Boulder County are more likely to be charged with a crime, convicted and sentenced to jail or prison than white residents, according to a new study into the practices of the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office.
Black people in Boulder County have for years been charged with crimes at five to six times the rate that white people were charged, and Hispanic people charged at about three times the rate white people were charged, according to the two-year study by the Vera Institute, a national organization focused on criminal justice reform.
The study examined more than 58,000 criminal cases prosecuted by the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office between 2013 and 2019.
“I have always believed that as long as we have racism in the United States we will continue to see racial inequities in the justice system,” Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty said Tuesday. “That’s why we undertook this project; that is why we chose to do this. We are committed to identifying these areas where inequities flow from, and rooting them out.”
Black people made up about 1% of Boulder County’s population in 2018 and 2019, but accounted for 5% of the county’s criminal defendants; Hispanic people made up about 13% of the county’s population, but 25% of criminal defendants. The county was about 79% white, but white people made up just 68% of criminal defendants.
Additionally, in 2018 and 2019, 34% of people in Boulder County sentenced to prison were Hispanic and 7% were Black, both disproportionately high numbers when compared to the county population’s overall racial breakdown.
The study also found that the district attorney’s office has in recent years expanded its diversion programs — in which prosecutors typically dismiss charges if defendants meet certain criteria or take certain steps — which has reduced the number of people being sentenced to probation and jail.
Additionally, the office is doing a better job of offering diversion to juvenile defendants of all races, the study found. In the past, white children were much more likely to be offered diversion than Black or Hispanic children, but that gap has narrowed since 2018, the study found.
Dougherty said during a July 7 presentation that his staff now reviews nearly all juvenile cases to see if the children are eligible for diversion, and prosecutors now divert more kids out of the court system than they prosecute.
For adult diversion, which is less widespread, white defendants are still more likely to be offered diversion than Black or Hispanic defendants, according to the study. Gardner-Wood said that while all juvenile cases are automatically reviewed for diversion, prosecutors must specifically refer adult defendants to diversion — a process Gardner-Wood said might need to change to ensure it is equitable.