EJUL Focuses Efforts to Combat Pretrial Racial Discrimination on PG County
September 25, 2018
On September 21, 2018, Equal Justice Under Law filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs (OJP) alleging that the pretrial bail system in Prince George’s County, Maryland results in massive racial disparities in violation of Title VI and other civil rights laws.
Bail systems across the country create enormous divides in pretrial outcomes for defendants based on their socioeconomic status and race. The American money bail system discriminates in particular against of people of color, often due to lack of procedural protections and subjective decisions of “dangerousness” made by judges whose only source of information is a defendant’s appearance and criminal charge. Even in Prince George’s County — where judges were recently encouraged to expand the use of non-monetary “own recognizance” bonds to increase pretrial freedom — nearly 85 percent of defendants are nonetheless detained before their trial. Of these, an astounding 83 percent are Black, despite comprising only 65 percent of the Prince George’s County population. Because bail decisions are not insulated from implicit bias, Black defendants are held on bail in Prince George’s County at a rate up to 20 percent higher than White defendants — an unacceptable outcome that Equal Justice Under Law has urged OJP to investigate and rectify.
An astounding 83% of defendants held on bail in Prince George’s County are Black, despite comprising only 65% of the county’s population.
Equal Justice Under Law has filed eight similar complaints with OJP alleging racial discrimination in bail systems across the country — including in Birmingham, Alabama; Nashville, Tennessee; St. Louis, Missouri; New Orleans, Louisiana; and four separate counties in California. Each of these complaints is being preliminarily investigated, formally investigated, or has been resolved by a formal Department of Justice investigation.
EJUL has filed nine administrative complaints with the DOJ alleging racial discrimination in bail practices across the country.
Indeed, the Justice Department recently settled two complaints by Equal Justice Under Law against judicial districts in Alabama and Tennessee, both of which resulted in significant overhauls of bail systems accused of racial discrimination. In April 2018, OJP entered into its first-ever Resolution Agreement with Jefferson County, Alabama, in which the Justice Department will retain federal oversight of the jurisdiction’s race-neutral reforms over the next three years.
More recently in July 2018, the Justice Department closed a two-year investigation into the Twentieth Judicial District of Tennessee regarding similar allegations of race discrimination by EJUL. The District consequently adopted an objective pretrial risk assessment tool developed specifically for the jurisdiction, with DOJ retaining oversight to evaluate and take any additional action necessary to ensure compliance with federal non-discrimination laws.
With eight investigations under way, Equal Justice Under Law has formally requested that OJP NOW expand its investigations to address the extreme pretrial racial disparities in Prince George’s County.
Read the complaint against Prince George’s County here. More information on the Justice Department’s resolutions against Jefferson County can be found here and the Twentieth District of Tennessee can be found here, respectively.