Over the last 10 years, Blacks have accounted for about 1 in every 5 arrests made in Tompkins County.
According to the CGR Report, since 2010, more than ¾ of jail admissions enter as unsentenced individuals. These individuals have been charged but not convicted of a crime. This begs the question – are they truly “innocent until proven guilty?” Is pre-trial detention truly being used to protect the public, to keep tabs on those who are a flight risk? Or, are people detained because they do not have the finances to make bail?
Assignment of bail is up to the discretion of the Judge. Locally, Judges in Tompkins County are either appointed by the Mayor (Ithaca) or elected as Magistrate Judges (Townships). According to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight, “how much bail you owe – and whether you owe it at all – can depend on who hears your case the day you’re arraigned.” Those from the Human Rights Watch suggest that high bail (amounts that are unattainable) “contributes to the efficient production of criminal convictions, regardless of actual guilt or innocence.” Whether Judges are acting based on their own punitive belief systems, disenchantment with slow processes, or because defendants’ finances are not considered, disparities exist and the excuse of “preventative detention” is no longer valid.
Are Judges in Tompkins County perpetuating the same patterns of inequity seen across the country for those most impacted by the punitive nature of the criminal justice system: communities of color, low-income individuals, and those who have substance misuse disorder? The community deserves to know if and to what extent the local criminal justice system is unfairly setting up certain populations for incarceration.
A forthcoming report aims to illuminate the disparities around bail and specifically the criminalization of poverty in Tompkins County.
Furthermore, The Tompkins County Criminal Justice and Jail Assessment Project Report states, “Blacks comprise only 4 percent of the total county 16+ population, but about 14.5 percent of female jail admissions ad 24 percent of all male admissions.”
What is known is that city or county court judges and town/village justices are maintaining their independence and using their own judgement when it comes to sentencing. According to the Tompkins County Criminal Justice and Jail Assessment Project Report, this may or may not fall in line with probations pre-sentencing investigation reports. The trends are clear however, – for felony investigations between 2014 and 2016, the courts leaned in favor of more punitive measures (time in prison) over recommendations from probation for time in jail, probation or a combination of both. As for misdemeanor investigations, the courts appear to lean in favor of sentences that do not place an individual directly in jail.
Disproportionate Minority Contact
There is no question that at each of the pivotal points in the criminal justice system, there are patterns that lead to a disproportionate rate of minority contact with the criminal justice system. According to The Tompkins County Criminal Justice and Jail Assessment Project Report, black individuals make up a higher proportion of felony arrests (27%) as compared to misdemeanors (20%). This, together with the fact that we see local Judges are more punitive in their sentencing decisions for individuals with felony charges than misdemeanors, as defined by their adherence to Probation’s pre-sentencing investigation, calls for deeper investigation.
Currently, there is no recidivism metric for Tompkins County.