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Race in the Criminal Justice System


Why are people of color overrepresented in Washington State prisons and jails? Does the criminal justice system treat people of color differently than whites? Are there stages in the process that—intentionally or unintentionally—disadvantage African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans? 

A note about vocabulary: Although some people discussing these issues use the words "disproportionality" and "disparity" interchangeably, there is an important distinction between the two.  Disproportionality  occurs when groups are represented unequally relative to their numbers in the general population. Disparity occurs when two individuals who are similarly situated are treated unequally. 

The Race and Criminal Justice Task Force was created in Nov. 2010 to address these issues. Its report was published in the state's three law reviews:

Task Force on Race and the Criminal Justice System, Preliminary Report on Race and Washington’s Criminal Justice System, 47 Gonz. L. Rev. 251 (2011-12) [HeinOnline], 35 Seattle U. L. Rev. 623 (2012) [journal] [HeinOnline], 87 Wash. L. Rev. 1 (2012) [journal] [HeinOnline]

In the summer of 2020, the task force was revived, chaired by the deans of the state's three law schools.

Task Force 2.0, Race and Washington’s Criminal Justice System: 2021 Report to the Washington Supreme Court (2021)

This guide focuses on Washington studies. (If you know of published studies that are not listed, please send us a note.)  It lists some national organizations working in the area and selectively lists books, articles and reports that are not focused on Washington State.

This guide includes selected material that is national in scope or looks at jurisdictions outside Washington. There is simply too much being published to collect it all here.

In Progress

Please email the Gallagher Law Library (lawref  [at] if you have suggestions for this guide. E.g.,

  • Do you know of studies (particularly from Washington State) that should be included?
  • Would you like to see a section with organizations, such as the Sentencing Project and the Marshall Project?
  • Do you know of useful guides we could link to?

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