Study Finds Racial Disparity In Sentences

By Caton Bredar

(LOUISVILLE) -- The issue of whether or not everyone is treated fairly in the local court system is under scrutiny after four years of research and two separate studies. Now the Commission On Racial Fairness Report appears to confirm systematic bias against African Americans in Jefferson County. WAVE 3's Caton Bredar reports.

Dr. Steven Barossa, a Professor of Urban Studies at the University of Louisville, was hired in 2001 by the Commission On Racial Fairness.

His job: research claims of bias in Jefferson County courtrooms.

Barossa says the study's purpose was "to explain the large gap in incarceration rates and sentence lengths."

Barossa's initial report, released in 2003, found that a third of Jefferson County judges sentenced African Americans more harshly than other defendants.

His most recent report says bias exists in the courtroom, but judges aren't necessarily to blame. "I would say it's just a matter of incorporating all of the relevant information that was available in the study."

The new study took about two years to complete and limited the types of cases researched, but expanded on their history.

The study doesn't identify any reasons for bias in the courtroom, but Rev. Louis Coleman, an activist in with the Justice Resource Center, says the first study had it right.

"I believe the best judges we had in the system are no longer there," Coleman said. "They're dead, they're gone, they have retired."

The most recent report to the commission confirms racial discrimination in the courtroom, but Coleman says it's something African Americans live with every day.

"We always at least felt that the word, 'justice,' meant there was going to be a fair process," Coleman said.

"But this judge stated to me in Jefferson County -- eyewitnesses were all around us -- and she said, 'justice is not always fair.' Well, maybe she was talking about her courtroom."

Barossa said he thinks the results of his study will simply confirm what many African Americans already believe.

Barossa also said that he completed the second study in September, but the commission waited to release the results until an independent review was completed.

He denied any suggestion that he was under pressure after the initial study, bus says he's unsure what the commission will do with the research or whether he'll be asked to do other studies.

Online Reporter: Caton Bredar

Online Producer: Michael Dever