LANSING, Mich. — Black people are still far more likely to be charged with a crime in Ingham County than white people, according to preliminary data from the Vera Institute of Justice prepared for the Ingham County prosecutor's office.
Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon said her office is attempting to heal the community from racial disparities by taking a deeper look at data on who gets charged with crimes. Her office started working with the Vera Institute of justice back at the beginning of 2020.
“The Vera Institute is a nonprofit organization that helps end mass incarceration, decrease racial disparities, and increase accountability between elected and governments and the people that they serve through data transparency,” said Jac Quiles with the Vera Institute.
The information given to the prosecutor’s office is preliminary but it points to deep disparities. In 2019, for example, Black people made up 11 percent of Ingham County’s population and more than half of those charged with felonies in the county. That same year, Black people were 5.6 times more likely to be charged by the prosecutor’s office than white people.
“As we get increased data, then we need to look at what the reason is for each of the disparities, and if it’s an inappropriate reason, we need to figure out how do we craft a policy that addresses that,” Siemon said.
Since working with the Vera Institute, Siemon has implemented policies to promote equity in law enforcement. For instance, her office will no longer charge drivers for traffic stops unrelated to public safety.
According to Vera, in 2019, Black people were nearly twice as likely to be stopped by police than white people and three times as likely to have their cars searched.
“I’ve been talking to police about traffic stops for at least two years now,” Siemon said. “Really intensely in the last year. And I was hoping the police agency would adopt the policy, and that would decrease the number of cases coming to us, but since they have chosen not to do that, I am looking at the data and saying how we review the cases will be the way to go.”
The Vera Institute data also shows that Black people made up 71 percent of all felony firearm charges in the county in 2019. The felony firearm charge applies to anyone carrying a gun while committing a felony, whether they use it or not, and carries a sentence of two years.
Now, Siemon has put in place a policy of not be charging people with felony firearm if the weapon was not used in a crime.
The Vera Institute is conducting the analysis for Ingham County for free, and Siemon is hoping it will play a part in improving Ingham County for all residents.
“Every time I hear this information, I say to myself, 'Oh God, is it really this bad?' But I am optimistic that it will get better, and we’re going to work very hard that it gets better,” Siemon said.
The final data is expected to be released in spring 2022.