March 27, 2023

Fewer criminal charges are being filed in Marion County, but racial disparities persist

The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office has significantly decreased the amount of charges it has filed in recent years. However, people of color are still disproportionately impacted. - Katrina Pross/WFYI

The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office has significantly decreased the amount of charges it has filed in recent years. However, people of color are still disproportionately impacted.

Katrina Pross/WFYI

The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office has significantly decreased the amount of charges it has filed in recent years – but Black and Hispanic populations are still disproportionately impacted.

A new report from the SAVI project at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis’ Polis Center and the Kheprw Institute published last week analyzed case filings in Marion County from January 2017 to August 2022. The study found that, while the county is filing fewer charges than it did prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Black defendants make up about 50 percent of the cases filed. Only 27 percent of Marion County’s population is Black.

Aaron Olson, a research data analyst with the Polis Center, said examining equity in Marion County’s justice system has been a priority for the center.

“There's a lot of interest in the community about how the criminal justice system works, and particularly understanding why we see really unequal outcomes amongst different groups,” Olson said. “So that's really the focus of why we've been working on this.”

Several factors have led to the decrease in case filings in Marion County. The jail population was cut when the pandemic began, and court resources were limited. Additionally, the prosecutor’s office has begun various reforms since Ryan Mears took office, including enacting a policy to not file charges for simple possession of marijuana. 

In 2017, the prosecutor’s office filed about 2,660 cases per month. By 2022, that number had fallen to about 1,400 cases each month.

Despite these factors, people of color are still overrepresented in the justice system. And while Black defendants make up a majority of cases overall. The Hispanic population is disproportionately impacted by cases related to driving without a license.

Olson emphasized that the data the researchers received is limited, and doesn’t include details on the alleged crimes or give clear insight into why these disparities exist. However, systemic racism and poverty are likely factors.

Olson said now that the data is published, he hopes community groups can investigate these disparities further.

“The goal with this report was to kind of set a baseline, or set like some ground level findings, that hopefully can be built off of in the future,” Olson said.

Contact WFYI criminal justice reporter Katrina Pross at kpross@wfyi.org. Follow on Twitter: @katrina_pross.

Pross is a Corps Member of Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.

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