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Accountability group finds racial bail disparities in Minnesota

Black defendants charged with felonies are frequently ordered to pay double the amount of bail as whites accused of the same crime.

The Law Enforcement Accountability Network of Duluth has found that Black defendants in Minnesota charged with felonies are frequently ordered to pay double the amount of bail as white defendants accused of the same crime.

According to The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, LEAN Duluth, an organization formed in the aftermath of the May 2020 police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, analyzed data from the State Court Administrator’s Office between ​​2018 and 2021. It found that during that time, bail was set for Black defendants on average at $66,186 for felony charges, while white defendants were given an average bail amount of $32,074.

The Law Enforcement Accountability Network of Duluth has found that Black defendants in Minnesota charged with felonies are frequently ordered to pay double the amount of bail as white defendants accused of the same crime. (Photo: AdobeStock)

LEAN Duluth researched other phenomena in local justice-seeking, including the disproportionate use-of-force incidents and arrests by Duluth police, and longer sentences for drug crimes for African Americans, who make up only 2% of the city’s population.

The Star-Tribune notes that the State Court Administrator’s Office has disputed the data. Kyle Christopherson, a spokesperson for the office, said, “Data of this nature requires a much more detailed analysis before any sweeping conclusions can be drawn.”

However, Jamey Sharp of LEAN Duluth told the newspaper that “racial disparities are extremely present here in Duluth — present in policing, present in jail, and present in the courtroom. We’re trying to show in this pipeline there are disparities at every single stop where Black and brown people have less of a chance at justice than white people.”

The disparities aren’t just Black and white. While Blacks make up 2% of Duluth’s population and 20% of its felony cases, Native Americans make up less than 2% of its population but 16% of felony cases requiring bail.

For many, high bail costs can worsen their situations, causing them to remain incarcerated until trial — making the system itself punitive for those who have not had their day in court.

Christopherson said that the state is evaluating its pretrial screening tool, adding, “Minnesota is committed to equal justice and is making every effort to continue to address any factors that lead to disparate impact on communities of color.”

While law enforcement authorities disputed the data, saying judges set bail amounts based on a variety of factors, T. Anansi Wilson, an associate professor of constitutional and criminal law at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, told The Star-Tribune that conscious and unconscious bias is one of those factors, adding that Black people are often perceived as “criminal, more violent and more likely to offend.”

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