Lowcountry Solicitor’s Office partnering with researchers for racial bias study

Updated: Jul. 30, 2020 at 7:52 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The Ninth Circuit Solicitor’s Office, lead by Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, has been collecting data for yeas and now plans to analyze it in a race equity study.

The office recently announced it’s partnering with Justice Innovation Lab and researchers from Loyola University at Chicago, the George Washington University Law School, the Toulouse School of Economics and the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation at Georgetown University.

The goal of the partnership is to create a more equitable criminal justice system.

“This is a systemic issue we have, not just in South Carolina but across the county,” Wilson said. “We have made so many strides already, and yes we have a ways to go.”

She’s been gathering data at her office for about five years after being awarded a grant from the John D. and Catherine MacArthur Foundation.

“The first part of the project was to enter our sentence recommendations because I thought that would be the most obvious place to see if we had some sort of unconscious or implicate bias,” she added.

However, she realized there was much more they could analyze before sentencing.

“What’s not in our data or anyone’s data, is criminal history. And that plays such a key role in prosecutorial decisions,” Wilson said.

The lawyers in her office have been using a coding system to track their decision-making process. The researchers will then take the data and analyze it.

“If we have bias, where is it? What stage is it showing up? Is it showing up in the sentence recommendation? Is it showing up in the judge who’s doing the sentencing? Is it showing up in the original plea offer? Are Black and brown people starting in the same place as white people with their original offer?” Wilson said these are all questions they hope to get answered.

“Racism is baked into our country, and the good news about all of this is that with training, understanding and education I believe we can undo that and we can get ourselves out of it,” she added.

In addition to this study, her 150 employees have all gone through a two-day intensive race equity training. She says very few offices in the country are doing as in-depth of an assessment as hers.

“This isn’t just a racial bias audit,” Wilson said. “Audits have a splash and then have a tend to put back in filing cabinets. This will change, systemically, how business is done in the ninth circuit in Charleston and Berkeley counties.”

Wilson says because of the partnership, her office does not have to pay for this study. She’s not sure when all the data will be finalized, but when it is, the information will be available for anyone to see.

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