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Study Says Race Factor In Courts Minorities More Likely To Face Serious Charges, Less To Get Bail

Members of minorities are more likely than whites to be charged with serious crimes but are less likely to be allowed bail, a University of Washington professor says.

George Bridges, an associate professor of sociology, based his findings on a review of King County Superior Court records.

Bridges cautioned that while his study was not designed to collect data on racial bias, differences between whites and members of minorities clearly were found in the records.

Race often was factor in court decisions, but “it would be inappropriate to conclude that racial and ethnic differences … reflect overt racial bias or discrimination in the decisions of (King County) Superior Court judges or staff,” according to the study, which was commissioned by the state Minority and Justice Commission.

Community connections and money often are other elements that judges take into account when deciding whether defendants are likely candidates for release, Bridges said.

Bridges has done a series of studies comparing the treatment of whites and minorities in the state’s justice system.

In 1986, he and colleague Robert Crutchfield found that blacks in Washington were nine times more likely than whites to go to jail.

Bridges and Crutchfield said they had found “strong evidence that officials in a number of our counties (King, Snohomish, Pierce, Spokane and Franklin counties were studied) hold prejudicial attitudes toward minorities.”

In 1993, Bridges looked at the juvenile justice system and again found that members of minorities fared worse than whites.

“The concern is that race is making a difference above and beyond other factors,” he said.

“I think we have to be realistic and think in terms of the social problems that confront minority groups,” said King County Superior Court Judge Charles Johnson in response to that study.

“Single families. Violence in the families. Lack of jobs. Economic poverty. Poor schools. Poor health care. All of these are causes,” he said.

The latest study “speaks for itself,” said commission member Charles Smith, a state Supreme Court justice.

Smith said he was not surprised by the results and called for more reflection by judges and prosecutors.

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