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Black People Make up a Larger Share of Defendants in Cook County


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Black People Make up a Larger Share of Defendants in Cook County


CHICAGO (AP) — The number of people charged in criminal cases has declined steadily in Cook County over the last two decades. But a closer look at the trend reveals stark racial disparities that have only worsened over time. More than 3 million criminal cases were filed in Cook County between 2000 and 2018. Over 60% of those were filed against Black people, according to an analysis of Cook County court data by The Circuit, even though Black people only make up about a quarter of the county’s population.

The rising racial disparities in the court system have also led to wider disparities in incarceration rates. Black people are now incarcerated in the Cook County Jail at more than 17 times the rate of white people, according to an analysis of jail population and census data by The Circuit. That’s the largest gap between the two groups since at least 1990.

The Circuit analyzed data on specific charges to better understand the trends. We also interviewed experts on policing, criminal justice, and race, who offered possible explanations for the shrinking caseloads and growing racial disparities in Cook County courts.

The rising racial disparities in the court system have also led to wider disparities in incarceration rates. Black people are now incarcerated in the Cook County Jail at more than 17 times the rate of white people, according to an analysis of jail population and census data by The Circuit. That’s the largest gap between the two groups since at least 1990.

The Circuit analyzed data on specific charges to better understand the trends. We also interviewed experts on policing, criminal justice, and race, who offered possible explanations for the shrinking caseloads and growing racial disparities in Cook County courts.

“What’s potentially going on is a shift in the types of cases that are getting made or arrests that are being made,” said David Olson, a criminology professor at Loyola University Chicago.

Several scholars suggested that changes to public safety priorities have reduced police and prosecutors’ focus on nonviolent offenses,…



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