Despite criminal justice reforms enacted over the past few years, Black people were jailed at a rate 11.6 times higher than white people in 2021 — more than double what it was five years earlier, according to a new report. 

That’s up from the 10.2 rate in 2020 and 4.8 in 2016, the report by John Jay College’s Data Collaborative for Justice published Tuesday found.

All told, Black and Hispanic people made up almost 90% of jail admissions in 2021 despite only comprising 52% of the city’s general population, the review noted.  

The report comes as Mayor Eric Adams has urged state lawmakers to further pare back bail reform laws that have made it easier for people to stay out of jail until their trials. Adams, a former police captain, also wants to give the city district attorneys legal power to criminally prosecute 16 and 17 year olds charged with gun offenses as adults.

Reform Reforms?

New York’s progressive criminal justice initiatives have become well known by their slogans: Raise the Age, Less Is More, and simply, Bail Reform. They boosted the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18; took some power away from parole officers and gave more rights to parolees; and made it easier for people accused of crimes to stay out of jail until their trials. 

Reform advocates and lawmakers touted their passing and predicted they’d drastically decrease the overall jail population where Black and Hispanic people have long made up the disproportionate majority.

One conclusion of the John Jay study is not that the moves were useless, but that other strategies are also needed.

“The reforms have not achieved their goals,” said research analyst Sarah Monaghan, one of the three authors of the John Jay report. “What is highly likely is the broader structural inequities at play in perpetuating this disparity.”

The racial imbalance will continue unless there’s a “multifaceted effort” to reform other areas such as housing, education, and mental health services, she said. 

John Jay’s Michael Rempel, director of the data center and a co-author of the report, believes the criminal justice reforms have not done enough to focus on the racial disparity. 

“My overarching reflection on our data is that it shows that race-neutral approaches to addressing racial disparities are not working,” he said. 

Lawmakers have falsely hoped that reducing the jail population would “trickle down” and “benefit Black and Brown people,” according to Rempel.  

Protesters outside the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, Oct. 6, 2021. Credit: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

But he racial disparities may never be fully rectified by criminal justice reforms, said Michael Jacoboson, who served as commissioner of the Departments of Probation and Correction under former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. 

“You have to address structural issues,” he said. “People who are poor tend to commit poor, street, crimes.” 

Jacobson, now the head of CUNY’s Institute for State and Local Government, argues police should stop making arrests for low level crimes that sometimes get disposed of 36 hours later at arraignment 

The public resources that go towards those arrests and short term lockups could be better spent for other community needs in low income areas. 

“You have to ask, ‘If we did something else, would that protect public safety better?’” he said, noting he doesn’t want police to stop arresting people accused of serious offenses. 

DAs throughout the city decline to prosecute approximately 7 to 10% of the police arrests each year, city records show. 

“Why are we doing that?” Jacobson asked. 

‘Conditions of Violence’

Liz Glazer, who as the head of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice during the de Blasio administration helped usher in several of the aforementioned reforms, noted that crime rates are higher in many low income neighborhoods in New York City. 

“The attempt to reduce the racial disparity once someone has hit the criminal justice system seems worthy but not where the big gains could be made,” added Glazer, the founder of Vital City, a nonprofit focused on civic well-being. 

The precincts with the most shootings have largely remained in the same predominantly Black, low income neighborhoods since 1993, records compiled by Vital City show. They include precincts covering Brownsville, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Central Harlem and Hunts Point. 

Police on 125th Street in Harlem, July 20, 2021. Credit: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“There’s been a ton written about this,” noted Glazer: “How segregated cities are, how poverty, all kinds of other social distress — from high asthma to low educational achievement — clusters around this poverty magnet, all of which has been shown, over and over again, to incubate conditions of violence.”

The John Jay report, funded in part by Trinity Church Wall St. Philanthropies (also a donor to THE CITY), looked at Correction Department admission data from 2016 to 2021. 

Manhattan was the most disparate borough, with Black people jailed at a rate of 29.5 times higher than white people in 2021, according to the report. That’s up from 24.4 in 2020 and 23.0 in 2016, the data revealed. 

“There’s a high percentage of white people residing in Manhattan, compared to Black individuals,” said Monaghan. “And there’s also stark socioeconomic disparities, which tend to be correlated with racial disparities within the borough.” 

Queens had the lowest racial disparity, but Black people were still jailed at a rate 8.4 times higher than white people in 2021, according to the study.

Overall, the average daily population at city jails has drastically decreased since hitting a 22,000 high in 1992. The population dropped to slightly below 4,000 —- for the first time since 1946 — during the peak of the pandemic in April 2020. It has since steadily gone up and Correction Commissioner Louis Molina predicted late last year that it will increase to 7,000 behind bars this year. 

“The harm to communities of color in total was greater than it is now because there’s only 6,000 people in jail,” Jacobson said. “So the numbers are less, but the disparity is the same.”