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Sentencing disparity between counties affecting African Americans

James Morrison


A new study finds that where you’re arrested and whether you’re detained pretrial changes your likelihood of a prison sentence. And both of these factors could be contributing to higher incarceration rates for African Americans in the First State.

African Americans make up 22 percent of Delaware’s population and 57 percent of the state’s prison population.

Statistically, this disparity is explained by the higher rate in which African Americans commit more serious crimes, earning longer sentences than white people who are more likely to commit low-level property crimes.

But this new report identifies some “context” factors that could also be contributing to African Americans’ high incarceration rates.

“Location, county and pretrial detention,” according to University of Pennsylvania Professor of Criminology John MacDonald, who prepared the report for Delaware.

He said incarceration rates are highest for people sentenced in New Castle and Kent Counties, which have the state’s largest populations of African Americans.

The report also finds that African Americans are more likely to be detained pretrial because of the current bail system. And pretrial detainees are more likely to plead guilty in order to get out of jail sooner.

One solution could be to reform the state’s bail system.

“And then also there could be some things looking at why different counties are having different rates of incarceration” MacDonald said.  

Delaware’s Access to Justice Commission will use these findings to help design criminal justice reform in the state. The commission will submit its recommendations to the State Supreme Court.

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