African-Americans 7 Times More Likely than Whites to Be Arrested in San Francisco


Click here to download a summary of key findings from the Burns Institute’s Racial & Ethnic Disparities Analysis for the San Francisco Justice Reinvestment Initiative.

To download the full report, click here.

“S.F. study finds big disparity in arrest rates between races”

(From the San Francisco Chronicle – 6/23/15)

Black people are disproportionately represented throughout the criminal justice system in San Francisco, from arrest to booking in jail to conviction and sentencing — and the disparity is growing worse, according to a city-commissioned study set to be released Tuesday.

The study found that black people are 7.1 times more likely to be arrested in the city than white people, 11 times more likely to be booked into jail and 10.3 times more likely to be convicted. Those convicted spend more time on probation or behind bars.

The study, which examined data through 2013, was commissioned by the San Francisco Reentry Council, a multiagency group that includes prosecutors and the mayor’s office and seeks to helps incarcerated people transition back into society.

The findings come as nationwide attention turns toward racial inequity in the criminal justice system, following several high-profile, video-recorded killings of unarmed black people by police officers.

And the report comes as thousands of San Francisco criminal cases and convictions over the past 10 years are under review, following the release of racist and anti-gay text messages sent between at least 14 San Francisco police officers.

“The disparities are stark,” said Laura Ridolfi, Director of Policy at the W. Haywood Burns Institute, the Oakland nonprofit that conducted the research. The organization seeks to redress what it sees as the justice system’s biased treatment of young people of color, whose early brushes with the system hurt their ability to be successful.

“This is a clear statement to the city and county that there is work to be done,” Ridolfi said. “The disparities here undermine the notion of justice.”

According to the study, the over-representation of minorities in San Francisco courts and jails has grown more stark over the past two decades, even as crime rates trend down across all demographics.

In 1994, for every white person arrested, 4.6 black people were taken into custody by police in San Francisco. In 2013, that number jumped to 7.1, according to the study. Though black people represented just 6 percent of the city’s adult population, they made up 40 percent of those arrested.

Once arrested, black people were less likely to make bail or be freed before trial, even though black defendants were more likely to be eligible for pretrial release.

“The report makes it clear: Racial profiling extends beyond the street and into the courthouse,” said Public Defender Jeff Adachi, co-chair of the Reentry Council. “It also shows that San Francisco lags behind the rest of the state in closing the equality gap in its justice system.”

While the racial disparity gap has been closing statewide, it has been growing in San Francisco, the study said.

In 1994, 3.9 black people were arrested in California for every white person, while that number was 4.6 in San Francisco. By 2013, the statewide number had dropped to three black people arrested for every white person, while that number jumped to 7.1 in the city.

While the study’s findings are alarming, Police Chief Greg Suhr said, “We try to do our job as objectively as possible.”

Suhr said socioeconomic factors must be considered in the statistics. Black residents of San Francisco tend to be poorer, live in neighborhoods with higher crime rates and, according to the study, are 10 times as likely as white residents to have a past criminal conviction. Suhr said his department has worked to address these issues through a jobs program that employs city teens, especially from poorer communities, and a recent push to keep kids in school.

“There are so many other things that are part of the conversation,” Suhr said. “But we’re certainly not trying to arrest our way out of this situation.”

Ridolfi said limitations of the data — in many cases the races of suspects and those arrested were not available — made it difficult to analyze the reasons behind the wide discrepancy between racial groups.

The study notes that accurate figures for Latino residents were unavailable due to the disregarding of ethnicity. Moreover, the authors said, the counting of many “Hispanics” as white likely served to understate the disparity between black and non-Hispanic white people.

Max Szabo, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office, said his office is “very supportive” of the study.

“This is important work that we are very supportive of, and we are not shying away from the challenges that this study depicts,” Szabo said. “As the district attorney has noted for some time, we need additional investment in data capacity so we can paint a clearer picture of disparities in the system and begin identifying policy solutions that can have a lasting impact.”

Kale Williams and Vivian Ho are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. E-mail:, vho@sfchronicle.comTwitter: @sfkale, @VivianHo

A Shocking Cost Some Pay More for than Others

The average annual cost to confine one youth: $149,000
The annual cost to send a kid to Harvard: $ 59,000

This simple comparison reveals the staggering cost of locking up youth. This cost is increasingly unpalatable as more evidence shows that confinement does not discourage future crime and may even encourage it. But, this accounts only for the cost of facilities for the time a youth is locked up.

What are the long-term costs of taking kids away from their families, schools and communities, and placing them in detention centers? And who is shouldering those costs?

A new report from the Justice Policy Institute, “Sticker Shock: Calculating the Full Price Tag for Youth Incarceration,” estimates these indirect and long-term costs and recognizes that the greatest burden falls most heavily on communities of color. The majority of youth involved in the justice system do not finish high school, thus severely limiting their employment opportunities and earning ability. Not only does this result in a loss of potential tax revenue, but governments also incur the cost of supporting many of these youth as adults through social services. Additionally, the report looks at the cost to the system of youth who are sexually assaulted while confined, as well as the cost of future crimes committed by youth who were not rehabilitated by the system and may even have left worse off than when they entered.

Accounting for all these measurements, the report estimates that the conservative cost for inappropriately and excessively confining youth is an estimated $8 billion dollars annually. On the high range of the spectrum, the United States loses an estimated $21 billion dollars annually. This loss of earning potential and threat of future violence largely impacts families and communities color whose youth are disproportionately arrested and placed out of home. Despite large reductions in confinement over the past decade, youth of color continue to be confined at rates much higher than their White counterparts, and these disparities are growing.

The W. Haywood Burns Institute’s “Unbalanced Juvenile Justice” data map provides an interactive format for understanding these disparities by state.

As we continue to better understand the long-term costs of confinement, it is imperative that we recognize how the disparities of our system impact youth, their families and communities long after they have been released.