“Bias on the Bench,” a yearlong investigation by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, found that judges across Florida sentence black defendants to longer punishment than whites, even when they committed the same crimes under almost identical circumstances. The four-part series shows that racial inequalities in criminal sentencing are rampant throughout Florida. Blacks are found guilty more often and spend more time behind bars. They are more likely to have their civil rights revoked, preventing them for voting and making it harder to find jobs and housing.
The Herald-Tribune reviewed tens of millions of records in two state databases — one compiled by the state’s court clerks that tracks criminal cases through every stage of the justice system and the other by the Florida Department of Corrections that notes points scored by felons at sentencing.
Reporters examined more than 85,000 criminal appeals, read through boxes of court documents and crossed the state to interview more than 100 legal experts, advocates and criminal defendants.
The newspaper also built a first-of-its-kind database of Florida’s criminal judges to compare sentencing patterns based on everything from a judge’s age and previous work experience to race and political affiliation.