Panel To Study Ky. Black-White Imprisoning Disparity

LOUISVILLE, KY --After completing a yearlong study of racial imbalances in Jefferson County juries, a court commission wants to see if it can determine why a disproportionate number of African Americans end up in prison in Kentucky, reports the Louisville Courier-Journal in its Sunday edition.

In Jefferson County, for instance, 57 percent of the people sent to state prison last year were African American, even though blacks constituted only 20 percent of the county population as of 2006.

In addition to finding out why such disparities occur, the Commission on Racial Fairness hopes to find out if anything can be done to resolve any problems found, reports the C-J.

"I'm alarmed when I look at this," Raoul Cunningham, the Louisville NAACP president and a member of the commission, said of statistics he obtained from the Department of Corrections and presented to the commission recently.

The commission was supposed to start studying the issue of courtroom environment this month, but Cunningham instead showed members statewide racial incarceration numbers and asked if that issue could take precedence, the newspaper reports.

Several members of the commission agreed the disparity between blacks and whites in prison was more pressing, and Appeals Court Judge Denise Clayton, head of the commission, will now ask Chief Justice Joseph Lambert, who created the commission, for his permission to study the issue.

"I maintain something is rotten in Denmark and we need to find out what," Cunningham told the commission.

Harry Rothgerber, first assistant Jefferson commonwealth's attorney, said, "This has been discussed in the criminal justice field for many, many years and I know of nobody who has had success" finding solutions. The commonwealth's attorney's office has a seat on the commission, reports the Courier-Journal.

Some other large counties have an even bigger disparity than Jefferson.

In Kenton County, for example, the population was 4 percent black as of 2006, but nearly a quarter of its state inmates last year were African American.

In Daviess County, where blacks made up 3 percent of the population in 2006, 26 percent of the residents sent to state prison last year were black, the newspaper reports.

For the state overall, African Americans make up 7 percent of the population, but they account for 24 percent of those going to prison.

Marc Mauer, executive director of the Washington-based National Sentencing Project, which released a report on state rates of incarceration last year, said Kentucky is actually a little below the national average, with blacks here being five times more likely to be incarcerated in jails and prisons than whites, reports The Louisville Courier-Journal.

copyright: The Louisville Courier-Journal

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