White Men Make Up 79% of Elected State and Local Prosecutors (but only 31% of Population)

Wednesday, July 08, 2015
(graphic: Steve Straehley, AllGov)

The debate over the racial makeup of the American criminal justice system has focused largely on the composition of police forces, particularly in cities where there have been protests about how African-Americans are treated by local police: Ferguson, Missouri; Staten Island, New York; Baltimore, Maryland.


But what about the composition of prosecutors—the ones who decide who to charge, who to plea bargain with and who to let go? It turns out white men dominate the ranks of prosecutors, as well as police departments.


A new study (pdf) by the Women Donors Network shows 79% of all elected state and local prosecutors in the country are white males, who comprise only 31% of the U.S. population. Add white women to the total and it leaves only 5% of prosecutors who are people of color.


“What this shows us is that, in the context of a growing crisis that we all recognize in criminal justice in this country, we have a system where incredible power and discretion is concentrated in the hands of one demographic group,” lead author Brenda Choresi Carter of the Women Donors Network told The New York Times.


In 14 states—Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Maine, Montana, Nebraska,  Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming—all the elected prosecutors are white. The study also found that 66% of states that elect prosecutors have no blacks in these offices. Latinos are also grossly underrepresented. They comprise 17% of the population, but only 1.7% of elected prosecutors.


Kentucky and Missouri, which have more than 100 elected prosecutors, have only one non-white prosecutor each.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

A Study Documents the Paucity of Black Elected Prosecutors: Zero in Most States (by Nicholas Fando, New York Times)

Justice for All? (Reflective Democracy Campaign)


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