Racial Impact Statements: Addressing Racial Disparities in Criminal Justice Systems

Racial Impact Statements:  Addressing Racial Disparities in Criminal Justice Systems

Thursday, January 15, 2009


By: Nathan Newman

Racial Impact Statements:  Addressing Racial Disparities in Criminal Justice Systems

The most recent edition of the American Bar Association's magazine, Criminal Justice, highlights a new tool -- racial impact statements -- that states are using to address the racial disparity in their criminal justice systems. 

The problem of disparate treatment was highlighted in two 2007 reports detailing the critical failure of states to administer justice without regard to race or ethnicity.  The National Council on Crime and Delinquency found that youth of color are overrepresented in every part of the juvenile justice system, from arrest to adult incarceration.  The disparity is particularly acute for African-American youth, who constitute only 16% of the population, but experience 28% of juvenile arrests, and constitute 37% of the detained population and 58% of youth committed to state adult prison.  While these numbers are troubling enough, state-level data shows that some states make the averages look idyllic.  The upper Midwest and the Northeast currently have the largest racial disparity in their criminal justice systems, with youth of color many times more likely than their white peers to be arrested, adjudicated, detained, or incarcerated.

Additionally, a study by The Sentencing Project exposed equally bad news in the adult criminal justice system.  Again the overall situation is critical, with the best state, Hawaii, having almost a two to one ratio between rates of incarceration for African-Americans and for whites.  Nationwide the rate is nearly six times the rate for whites, and double that of Hispanics.  The worst state, Iowa had a ratio between African-Americans and whites of over 13 to one.  And once again, the states with the worst problems were grouped in the Northeast and Midwest.

Racial Impact Statements Force Policymakers to Confront Problem:  Racial impact statements are a new tool developed to estimate the disparate racial impacts of criminal justice policies in the same way that fiscal or environmental impact statements describe the budgetary and ecological effects of other policies.  This allows legislators to make an informed consideration of the racial impacts when crafting solutions to crime and delinquency, and helps ensure that racial justice costs are included in the public dialogue regarding criminal justice choices.  This in turn should bolster support for alternative policies with lower social costs.

Iowa, finding itself in the most urgent need of reform, moved first and enacted HF 2393, sponsored by Des Moines Representative Wayne Ford requiring racial impact statements for proposed legislation that affects sentencing, probation, or parole policies.  The Iowa Legislature gave the bill virtually unanimous support with only two "no" votes total.  Connecticut  passed a similar law in June of last year under the leadership of House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Representative Mike Lawlor.  Additionally, Governor Jim Doyle of Wisconsin moved to address his state's number one ranking for racial disparity among youths in state custody by swiftly establishing the Governor's Commission on Reducing Racial Disparities in the Wisconsin Justice System.  The commission studied the issue and took citizen testimony for a year before issuing recommendations to address racial disparities at various stages of the criminal justice system.  He then issued an executive order directing relevant agencies to track outcomes by race, and instituting a permanent oversight commission to advocate for policies to reduce disparities.

Incorporating Racial Impact Statements Into Criminal Justice Policy Making:  Racial disparities exist throughout the entire criminal justice system of every state.  Therefore, racial impact should be examined whenever criminal justice policies are considered.  However, to date, those states that have formally incorporated racial impact statements into their criminal justice policy development process have focused their use on sentencing and corrections policy.  Similarly, states have a choice of whether to make these statements mandatory for certain classes of legislation, or as Connecticut has done, to allow a majority of members on relevant committees to request a statement.

The agency or legislative employees charged with generating racial impact statements will vary according to the organizational realities in each state, but generally those best positioned to make the assessment are those who currently are tasked with predicting future prison populations, often sentencing commissions, departments of correction, or budget and fiscal agencies. North Carolina requires its Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission to produce prison population impact statements which can provide a model for the production of racial impact statements in the corrections context.

Conclusion: One of the central legacies of the past era we are now departing -- an era dominated by right wing policy -- is the catastrophic failure of our criminal justice policies.  A pillar of this failure is the gross racial disparities that exist at every step in the criminal justice process, a problem that affects juveniles as well as adults.  This calamitous situation is perhaps the primary factor thwarting progress on the key progressive goal of a racially just society.  Therefore, reforming our criminal justice systems to reflect our core values as a country is a key challenge for the new era of progressive leadership.  Racial impact statements are a straightforward way to move the debate on these critical issues to the forefront of the criminal justice policy development process.

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By: Adam Thompson

"Gentleman's Agreement" Drives Health Care Costs in Massachusetts, Highlights Need for "Public Plan" Option in Health Reforms

In 2000, the CEOs of the largest hospital system and largest insurance company in Massachusetts shook hands on a plan to manipulate the health care market and ensure each other greater profits and market-share, an extensive report by the Boston Globe has revealed.  Under the wink-and-a-nod handshake deal, Blue Cross insurance agreed to raise reimbursement rates to Partners HealthCare - the largest hospital system and private employer in the state - in exchange for Partners' insistence that other insurers pay them at least the same rates paid by Blue Cross.  

The agreement enabled Partners to secure higher reimbursements from all insurers and gave Blue Cross a competitive advantage in the market.  Since the agreement, Blue Cross has raised its payment rates to Partners by 75%, far more than it pays to other hospitals, helping Partners hospitals earn 30% more than other teaching hospitals - resulting in hundreds of millions in extra payments to Partners each year, as the Globe reports. Blue Cross, for its part, dominates with 60% of the health insurance market and has seen profits soar from $82.7 million in 2002 to more than $200 million each year since.  Consumers in Massachusetts have faced ever-rising premiums, with individual insurance premiums raising 9% each year, twice the rate of the late 1990's, before the handshake deal.

In response to the Globe report and as part of lawmakers' efforts to sustain the Massachusetts health care reforms, Gov. Deval Patrick is considering hearings into insurance premiums and hospital charges, as well as tougher regulations. Some insurers have expressed support for the hearings, which could shed additional light on the 2000 Partners/Blue Cross side-deal and the extent to which it artificially increased profits and health care costs.  Additionally, a new legislatively created commission on payment reform is getting extra billing in light of the Globe report.  The commission will look at how to shift provider reimbursement to pay for healthy outcomes, rather than based merely on the number of tests and procedures performed. 

The Public Plan Option - Increasing Choice and Value in Health Care, and Preventing Industry Collusion:  This kind of collusion between insurers and providers to keep costs up is chronic across the nation.  In a report by the New York Times, Linda J. Blumberg, a health economist at the Urban Institute, said:

Large insurers do not seem to use their market power to drive hard bargains with health care providers. The presence of a well-run public plan could constrain private spending because private insurers would have to compete on price, in a way they do not often do today.

In short, the profit-motive in the health care sector is too strong and fails to keep costs down. Part of the solution would be the creation of a public plan option to offer families and businesses greater choice in health care and to compete with private insurers.  Such a plan would vigorously negotiate for lower costs and give families and employers an alternative to high-priced private insurance plans. The idea is gaining momentum among advocates for progressive national reform and in state proposals across the country, including Healthy Wisconsin, the Washington Health Partnership, New York Health Plus, emerging legislation in Iowa, and a new proposal from the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut which builds on legislation vetoed by Gov. Rell in 2008 that would have opened the state employee health plan to small businesses and towns.

National Political Fault Lines Over Public Plan Option:  In Congress, it is emerging as a partisan and ideological fault-line in the brewing reform debate. Proponents of some sort of public plan option, including President-Elect Obama, Senators Ted Kennedy and Max Baucus and Rep. Pete Stark - each of whom will be instrumental in fashioning any health care reform package this year - argue that a public plan could use its purchasing power to negotiate better value for families, businesses, and taxpayers. Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who has been tapped by President-Elect Obama as his health secretary and to spearhead his health care reform efforts, says:

Together with traditional Medicare, this new program would have tremendous clout to bargain for the lowest prices from providers and push them to improve the quality of care.

In voicing opposition to the idea, Congressional Republicans and conservative insurer and business organizations express an ideological allegiance to free-market principles and argue that private insurers would not be able to compete with a government plan.  A recent USA Today opinion, however, deconstructs the arguments opposing a public plan and, in part, points out that a public plan would "test the [conservative] notion that private health insurance plans operate more efficiently than government." In short, conservatives fear that a public plan would expose the failings of private insurance.

Short of a new and coordinated health care system that eliminates the manipulative profit-motive from health care, the Massachusetts experience and Globe report offer many lessons for lawmakers and regulators. Along with creating a public plan option, these include: government to serve as a watchdog; increased oversight and transparency of premiums, payment rates, quality metrics, and other financial arrangements; and greater public review and control over hospital mergers, as a 1993 merger created the Partners behemoth.

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By: Caroline Fan

House Passes SCHIP Reform, but States Still Need Help on Insuring ALL Kids

Last night, the US House of Representatives passed H.R. 2, an expansion of SCHIP, a federal program that provides medical insurance to lower income children, across strong bipartisan lines (289-139) with forty Republicans voting in favor of the bill. SCHIP currently covers 6.7 million kids and expansion will allow an additional 4 million.

The House version of the bill removes a 5-year waiting period for children and pregnant women who are legal immigrants, a provision that children's advocates and health care providers agree is important for public health and child development.  While the current Senate version of the bill lacks coverage for immigrant children, House Speaker Pelosi expects Obama to sign the House version of the bill. Congress had passed SCHIP expansion twice under President Bush, who had vetoed it both times, despite broad public support for providing children's health care. A poll taken at the end of 2008 found that 67% of respondents favored expanding SCHIP to ensure that all children in America, including legal immigrant children, have health care coverage, with only 15% opposed.  

Up to this point states have been taking up the slack in establishing coverage for immigrant children.  As of late 2006, 21 states and the District of Columbia provided some form of health coverage for legal immigrant children and pregnant women excluded by the 5 year federal SCHIP bar or from Medicaid.

Even with the proposed change, the SCHIP program will still leave out undocumented children, driving up health care costs for states and local governments that leads to delayed care and expensive emergency room visits.  Iowa legislators plan to introduce a bill to cover undocument children under a plan to cover all kids in the state by 2011.  As Iowa state Senators Jack Hatch and Joe Bolkcom write in a recent Des Moines Register editorial:

We are already providing health services to undocumented children in the emergency rooms of our community hospitals. This is the single most expensive venue to provide health-care services. It is far more cost-effective to provide care in an organized fashion. When our emergency-room doctors and nurses render primary care to undocumented children, it diverts these doctors from rendering emergency care to others in our community.

Moreover, emergency-room pediatricians often find themselves in an untenable situation when caring for an undocumented child who needs expensive, life-saving care. Their role as a physician and patient advocate leads to conflict between the need to provide care and the need of the health-care institution they work with to remain financially solvent. Significant ethical and public-health consequences result when we deny needed care to these children.

Iowa would be joining other states including District of Columbia, New York, Illinois, Massachsuetts, and Washington States in providing health care to all children, regardless of status. Some cities such as New York and San Francisco have gone to even greater lengths to ensure that all their residents, including undocumented adult immigrants, can have access to health care. 

The idea of making the most effective use of state health care dollars by insuring coverage and preventative care for undocumented immigrants versus paying for ER visits, which are more expensive, has also received support from Republican Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger of California. Medical studies have also substantiated the point that we are already paying for health care costs for undocumented children. A report published in the American Journal of Public Health shows that uninsured immigrant children have per capita cost expenditures that were 86% lower than that of uninsured American-born children, but that expenditures for emergency room visits were three times greater.

It's also worth noting that the parents of most of these children are having social security and federal income taxes withheld from their paychecks yet little or none of that money is being sent back to the states to help with these health care costs.  This SCHIP reform is a great step forward but still does not fully address the needs of all children in America. Hopefully Congress will step up and fully fund SCHIP, returning the surplus federal taxes paid by undocumented immigrants to  help states and localities and consider truly covering all children, including undocumented kids.


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By: Christian Smith-Socaris

Notable in Election News

Early Voting Shows Big Gain Nationally, Hits Majority in Ten States 
The final numbers for early voting have been posted by the United States Elections Project at George Mason University and they are big: 30% of votes nationwide were cast early and a majority of voters cast their votes either by mail or in person before Election Day in ten states.  The total increase is 50% over the number cast in the 2004 presidential election.  And even more striking, Coloradans cast 79% of their votes early, the vast majority through mail-in ballots.  These numbers make clear that the electoral landscape is changing in many states, and the endorsement by so many voters will likely fuel further adoption of early voting this session and beyond.

US Supreme Court Case on Judicial Campaign Contributions Draws Over Two Dozen State Supreme Court Justices as Amici
Caperton v. Massey is a case challenging the actions of a West Virginia state supreme court chief justice who cast the deciding vote to overturn a $50 million judgment now before the US Supreme Court.  That decision happened to benefit a company whose owner previously gave the chief justice a $3 million campaign contribution.  The case has prompted 27 state supreme court chief justices and justices, from states with judicial elections, to submit a brief that expresses alarm at the spiralling cost of judicial elections, as well as their unanimous position that recusal would have been the appropriate action when a justice has received so large a donation.  Additional briefs supporting the petitioners come from the American Bar Association, Wal-Mart and Pepsico, the Brennan Center for Justice and the Justice at Stake Campaign.

Project Vote and ACORN Press Indiana on NVRA Compliance
Project Vote and ACORN have sent a pre-litigation notice to Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita requesting that he bring the state into compliance with the federal National Voter Registration Act provisions that require the state to provide voter registration services at public assistance agencies.  The notice is in response to evidence that hundreds of thousands of state residents have been denied the opportunity to register.  That this action was required when most other states have worked with advocates to bring themselves into full compliance is not surprising as Sec. of State Rokita is no friend of voters and has been a prominent proponent of strict voter ID requirements and other regressive elections policies.

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Research Roundup

Year in Review- This report by the Drum Major Institute highlights the best and worst in public policy across the nation, including cleaning up ports in Los Angeles, community programs to prevent foreclosure, cracking down on cheating workers in New York, comprehensive health care in San Francisco, and taming toxic toys.  It also highlights national and local trends, including a "state of the cities" report on how five municipalities wrestled with major challenges in 2008.

Three reports on health care all spotlight the need and economic opportunity for the nation from reforming our dysfunctional health care system:

  • American Health Care Since 1994: The Unacceptable Status Quo - Highlighting how our health care system has continued to fail Americans, this report by the Center for American Progress emphasizes the need to reinvigorate the movement for comprehensive reform of our health care system. 
  • Single Payer for All: An Economic Stimulus Plan for the Economy - Establishing a national single-payer style health care reform system would provide a major stimulus for the U.S. economy by creating 2.6 million new jobs, and infusing $317 billion in new business and public revenues, with another $100 billion in wages into the U.S. economy, according to a new study by the Institute for Health & Socio-Economic Policy.
  • Health Insurance Coverage in Massachusetts - More than 97 percent of Massachusetts residents have health insurance, with only 2.6 percent of state residents remaining uninsured, according to this study by the Urban Institute.

While national recovery investments are critical, the following reports make clear that as important is making sure they produce long-term gains in both economic productivity and opportunity for those previously isolated from prosperity:

  • Memo to the President: Invest in Long-Term Prosperity - This memo by the Brookings Institution argues that the nation has failed to focus infrastructure investments in ways that maximize productivity gains for the economy.  Any new package of recovery spending should be designed to better link existing aviation, freight, mass transit and passenger rail networks, invest in smarter electrical grids and retrofitting buildings for energy gains, and commit to a metropolitan strategy that links transportation, housing and education investments that strengthen overall metropolitan economic development around the country. 
  • The Geography of Opportunity: Building Communities of Opportunity in Massachusetts - Using sophisticated mapping, this study by the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation highlights how neighborhood conditions play a substantial role in the life outcomes of inhabitants, where many experience physical isolation along racial lines from areas of job opportunity.  Low-income whites were far more likely to live in high opportunity areas than low-income African American or Latinos. The report recommends stronger local economic investment in such communities, better transit to link isolated communities to jobs, and better management of sprawling growth to integrate low and high opportunity areas.

Downtime: Workers forced to settle for fewer hours - The number of involuntary part-time workers has nearly doubled just in the past year to over 8 million people, mostly driven by full-time workers accepting cutbacks in hours, according to this snapshot by the Economic Policy Institute.

Cash for Clunkers - Cars which are 13 years or older account for only 25 percent of total miles driven in the US, but they produce 75 percent of all pollution from automobiles. This study by the Center for American Progress argues that an effective environmental program would create economic incentives to owners of those cars to either switch to an environmentally upgraded car or subsidize their use of mass transit instead of driving.

Enhancing Child Safety and Online Technologies - Challenging conventional wisdom, this report finds that online activity does not expose children to different threats of sexual predation than they face in the rest of their lives, according to this study by the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, a coalition of groups based at Harvard's Berkman Center.   The problem of bullying among children, both online and offline, poses a far more serious challenge than the sexual solicitation of minors by adults.

Please email us leads on good research at


Racial Impact Statements:  Addressing Racial Disparities in Criminal Justice System

Criminal Justice Magazine - Racial Impact Statements: Changing Policies to Address Disparities
The Sentencing Project - Uneven Justice: State Rates of Incarceration By Race and Ethnicity
National Council on Crime and Delinquency - And Justice for Some: Differential Treatment of Youth of Color in the Justice System
Marc Mauer, Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law - Racial Impact Statements as a Means of Reducing Unwarranted Sentencing Disparities

Gentleman's" Agreement Drives Health Care Costs in Massachusetts- Highlights Need for "Public Plan" Option in Health Reforms

Progressive States Network - Stop Health Care Industry Profiteering - The Office of the President-Election - Agenda: Health Care
Boston Globe - A Handshake that Made Healthcare History
Institue for America's Future - The Case for Public Plan Choice in National Health Reform, by Jacob Hacker, PhD
AFSCME - Health Care for America

House Passes SCHIP Reform, but States Still Need Help on Insuring ALL Kids

First Focus poll on SCHIP

Iowa editorial on insuring ALL kids 

Progressive States Network - Provide health care for Immigrant Communities

Rhode Island H5412
NILC - State Funded SCHIP Programs


The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:

Nathan Newman, Interim Executive Director
Caroline Fan, Immigration and Workers' Rights Policy Specialist
Julie Schwartz, Broadband and Economic Development Policy Specialist
Christian Smith-Socaris, Election Reform Policy Specialist
Adam Thompson, Health Care Policy Specialist
Austin Guest, Communications Specialist
Marisol Thomer, Outreach Coordinator

Please shoot us an email at if you have feedback, tips, suggestions, criticisms, or nominations for any of our sidebar features.

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