The Decision to Prosecute Drug Offenses and Homicides in Marion County, Indiana
Findings and Recommendations
Finding 1. There is a perception within the minority community, and nothing in the Committee’s study allows us to rebut it, that minorities are singled out for drug arrests and prosecution. Minority communities perceive their experiences with the criminal justice system in an entirely different way than the white community, believing an inescapable subjectivity along racial lines permeates the criminal justice system.
However, the Committee is unable to draw a statistically valid conclusion that race has played a role in the decision to prosecute drug offenses and homicides in Marion County in 1993 under the administration of Jeffrey Modisett and in 1997 under the administration of Scott C. Newman.
Finding 2. In Marion County, Indiana, with respect to arrest and prosecution of drug offenses, African Americans are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system. The Committee finds this particularly disturbing in light of the testimony from Attorney General Jeffrey Modisett that:
in Indiana the drug problem is worse in rural counties [where the population is predominately white] than it is in metropolitan counties. The only drug . . . more prevalent in the cities is marijuana. The use of . . . every other drug [is] more predominant in rural communities. So, we need to deal with facts and our criminal strategies and prosecution strategies must follow those facts.
In Marion County, whites are 76.7 percent of the population, while African Americans are 21.2 percent. Yet African Americans are 66.6 percent of the total arrested for narcotics possession, while whites are only 32.8 percent of those arrested for possession of narcotics.
To the Committee there clearly is a problem with policing strategy and deployment.
Recommendation 2. City and county officials, police agencies, and representatives of all communities in Marion County should convene a task force to examine publicly policing strategy and deployment to ensure that laws are being equally enforced along racial and ethnic lines.
This Committee understands this recommendation not to be without precedent. Similar task forces have been convened in other cities in the state, including South Bend and Fort Wayne, so that the community as a whole becomes knowledgeable and involved in police strategy and deployment decisions.
Finding 3. Data limitations exist with respect to the Committee’s study, which preclude, among other things, definitive conclusions with respect to:
plea bargaining decisions
the impact of the number of charges brought against a defendant in the decision to prosecute
the severity of charges chosen to prosecute
Recommendation 3.1. The appropriate government agency of Marion County should make all information accessible so independent researchers and organizations can access the data and examine these issues in order to ameliorate the perception in the minority community of racial bias in the criminal justice system, including decisions to prosecute and plea bargains in Marion County.
Recommendation 3.2. Attorney General Jeffrey Modisett testified that while he served as Marion County prosecutor:
a group called the Fairness in the Criminal Justice System Community [was convened] . . . to study each point in the [criminal justice] system where a discretion was exercised to determine if looking at that point of discretion a disparate impact existed based upon race or ethnicity or any other inappropriate reason. Unfortunately, my term came to an end before any report was published.
The prosecutor and county administration should complete, update, and release the report of the Fairness in the Criminal Justice System Community with explanations of the data set and methodology.
Recommendation 3.3. The State Legislature should require all appropriate governing authorities in the state involved in criminal justice to put systems in place that would allow independent researchers and organizations to access data and examine issues with respect to the criminal justice system, including the decisions to prosecute and plea bargains along racial and ethnic lines.
Additionally, the State Legislature should provide funding to local communities to implement these systems.
General Recommendation. The Committee recommends to itself to revisit these issues within the next six years and determine:
if the recommendations in this study have been implemented and to what extent
if the perception within the minority community that minorities are singled out for arrests and prosecution persists
whether race plays a role in the decision to prosecute