Washington State has a mixed history when it comes to its treatment of racial and ethnic minorities. It was founded through the displacement of its native peoples by legal and extralegal means. Washington's early history included severe anti-immigrant sentiment expressed first toward Chinese immigrants and then Japanese immigrants, who were the target of the state's Alien Land Laws. Yet unlike other states that instituted de jure segregation of schools and severely limited participation in the legal system, Washington did not mandate school segregation by law and was the only western state that did not ban interracial marriage. In fact, Washington became so well known for its openness that interracial couples would often travel to the state solely to get married. A ready coalition of four distinct racial minorities--blacks, Chinese, Filipinos, and Japanese--worked together during the 1930s to defeat various policies that targeted racial minorities. These initial campaigns laid the groundwork for future collaboration that would cut across racial lines.

Despite this coalition, troubling manifestations of racial discrimination in the public and private spheres continued, demonstrating that Washington State was hardly immune to racial bias. For instance, in March 1942, 14,400 persons of Japanese descent lived in Washington State, including 9600 in King County alone. Of these, nearly 13,000 were incarcerated and placed into internment camps. Over 30% of those forcibly removed from Seattle never returned to their homes. After World War II, Seattle's black population experienced its own backlash, as restrictive covenants and other forms of housing discrimination proliferated throughout Washington State between 1940 and 1960. These covenants were so effective in Seattle that they functionally concentrated 78% of the black community into the area known as the Central District. While residential discrimination is no longer sanctioned by the law, its effects continue to reverberate even today.

Even after Japanese American incarceration ended and residential discrimination became less overt, one area continued to produce racialized outcomes: the criminal justice system. In 1980, scholar Scott Christianson published findings showing that Washington State led the nation in disproportionate imprisonment of blacks. While every state disproportionately imprisoned blacks, the overrepresentation of blacks relative to the size of the black population was greatest in Washington. In a 2005 report discussing Christianson's finding, Robert Crutchfield found that while blacks in 1980 constituted approximately 28% of the prison population, they constituted approximately 3% of the general population. The black share of the prison population was more than nine times greater than the black share of the general population. Nationally, the black share of the prison population was four times greater than the black share of the general population.

Christianson's findings sparked a firestorm of concern among policymakers, researchers, and citizens in Washington State. The state legislature responded by commissioning a study to determine whether racial disparity existed in Washington's criminal justice system. The 1986 Crutchfield and Bridges study was the first in a series of studies over the last twenty-five years to find that racial bias exists at various points in Washington's criminal justice system. In particular, this first study found that race affects the processing of felony cases in Washington State, even after controlling for legally relevant factors. That is, all things being equal, outcomes were worse for defendants who were black than for defendants who were white.

In the wake of the 1986 Crutchfield and Bridges report, the state legislature established the Washington State Minority and Justice Task Force to study the treatment of minorities in the state court system, to recommend reforms and to provide an education program for the Among other findings, the 1990 report concluded that minorities perceive that bias pervades the entire legal system in general and hence [minorities] do not trust the court system to resolve their disputes or administer justice In particular, this perception of bias extended to criminal proceedings, where minorities reported that they received disparate treatment from prosecutors, law enforcement authorities, and public defenders. The report concluded that more research was needed to determine how race affects individual experiences with various aspects of Washington's criminal justice system, such as pretrial release, bail, prosecutorial discretion, and quality of counsel.

Decades later, the perception that racial bias permeates the criminal justice system persists. But now there is substantial evidence to support the notion that racial inequities do permeate the criminal justice system. Subsequent studies commissioned since 1986 have confirmed that Washington cannot justify its disproportionate minority incarceration rates on the sole basis that minorities commit more crimes. For instance, the extant research concerning the Washington State Patrol suggests that race does not affect police discretion with regard to stops but does affect searches. Other research indicates that Seattle drug arrest patterns and outcomes are shaped by race. Another study found that even after controlling for legally relevant factors, racial differences affect how cases are processed: minorities were more likely than whites to be held in custody prior to trial, less likely than whites to be released on personal recognizance following arrest, and more likely to receive monetary bail. While these and other studies have focused on different decision-making points in the criminal justice system, one troubling conclusion, in particular, underlies each study's findings: when it comes to Washington State's criminal justice system, race matters.

Given this state's history and the evidence demonstrating the importance of race in the criminal justice system, members of the community were understandably concerned when two sitting Washington State Supreme Court Justices opined on October 7, 2010, that racial minorities are overrepresented in the prison population solely because they commit more crimes and not because any bias exists in the criminal justice system. The comments themselves betrayed a common misunderstanding about whether this issue is more complex than a cursory review of certain crime conviction rates might imply. Conviction rates are not a valid proxy for commission rates.

In the wake of these comments, concerned community members came together to form the Task Force on Race and the Criminal Justice System. We met because the simplistic notion that black overrepresentation in our prisons occurs because blacks commit more crimes did not fit with our sense of how racial and ethnic minorities are treated in today's society and in our criminal justice system. We realized quickly, though, that it was important not to proceed on assumptions that unfair treatment existed.

The Task Force divided into five working groups: Oversight, Community Engagement, Research, Recommendations/Implementation, and Education. The Research Working Group's mandate was to investigate disproportionalities in the criminal justice system and, where disproportionalities existed, investigate possible causes. This fact-based inquiry was designed to serve as a basis for recommending changes that would promote fairness, reduce disparity, ensure legitimate public safety objectives, and instill public confidence in our criminal justice system. As we engaged in this work, the Research Working Group reported back to the broader Task Force. Our membership grew as more and more organizations and institutions recognized the importance of this issue, not just for the affected racial and ethnic groups, but also for the best aspirations we have as a state. One measure of the goodwill of the people of the State of Washington is the broad range of organizations and individuals who have joined the Task Force, for what all of us have come to realize is a multi-year project.

For this Report, the Research Working Group reviewed evidence on disproportionality in Washington's criminal justice system and considered whether crime commission rates accounted for this disproportionality. We found that crime commission rates by race and ethnicity are largely unknown and perhaps unknowable, but that some researchers simply take arrest rates as good proxies for underlying commission rates for all crimes. We found that use of arrest rates likely overstates black crime commission rates for several reasons. But even if arrest rates are used as a proxy for underlying crime commission rates, the extent of racial disproportionality is not explained by commission rates. In 1982, 80% of black imprisonment in Washington for serious crimes could not be accounted for based on arrest rates, though by 2009, this had dropped to 45%.

We then identified and synthesized research on nine issues for which evidence exists regarding the causes of Washington's disproportionality: (1) juvenile justice; (2) prosecutorial decision-making; (3) sentencing outcomes; (4) legal financial obligations (LFOs); (5) pretrial release; (6) drug enforcement; (7) asset forfeiture; (8) traffic enforcement; and (9) prosecution for Driving While License Suspended (DWLS). In each of these areas, the research, data, and findings pertain specifically to Washington State.

We also reviewed research regarding bias, especially research on unconscious or implicit bias. We found that cognitive neuroscience and social psychology help us to better understand the existence and behavioral consequences of unconscious or implicit racism.

The evidence we gathered demonstrates that within Washington State's criminal justice system, race and ethnicity matter in ways that are inconsistent with fairness, that do not advance legitimate public safety objectives, and that undermine public confidence.

Part II presents the Working Group's findings and data regarding racial disproportionality within Washington State's criminal justice system. Part III discusses three possible causes for this disproportionality. Part III.A discusses differential commission rates, concluding that this factor alone cannot account for the disproportionality observed in the criminal justice system. Part III.B discusses seven racially neutral policies that have racially disparate effects, and thus help explain racial disproportionality. Finally, Part III.C discusses bias, whether explicit or implicit, and how it produces racial disparity.