Thousands of people walk through the doors of the Cuyahoga County Justice Center each year to have their felony cases heard by judges.
The Marshall Project is a national journalism nonprofit that works to demystify the criminal justice system. Some of the work planned for 2022 is based on a massive undertaking: using tools to "scrape" the records, one case at a time, from the internet dockets to assemble a database that could be analyzed — and shared with the public.
Most of the people who are arrested by police and charged with felonies by prosecutors are Black — more than 60% — even though Black residents make up only about 30% of the county's population. Then, after judges impose sentences, three-quarters of people sent to state prison from Cuyahoga County in recent years are Black.
That’s evidence that justice is not always blind.
The Marshall Project is launching a new project — called “Testify” — with an examination of who holds power when it comes to picking judges.
We’ve spent months gathering questions from the community, and those questions will help us explore the points where injustice creeps into the system.
We found an imbalance in power when it comes to electing judges.
By looking at election and court data, we discovered that people who live in neighborhoods more affected by the court system, and who know it best, vote less often in judicial races.
The great majority of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judges are white. The great majority of the criminal defendants they sentence are Black. On its face, it would seem the county residents who had the most contact with the courts would be the ones most likely to vote in judicial elections. But an analysis by The Marshall Project found that wasn't the case. Ideastream Public Media's Amy Eddings talks to Rachel Dissell, a Cleveland-based contributor to The Marshall Project, about whether this is contributing to racial disparities in criminal justice outcomes.
Judges decide the fate of thousands of Clevelanders each year. But In November 2020, during the last presidential election, about a third of Cuyahoga County voters who showed up at the polls skipped voting in races for judges that hear felony cases.
The analysis is based on the period from 2016 through 2021. Exceptions are noted in specific articles.
In Cuyahoga County, voting patterns have resulted in mostly White judges deciding the fate of mostly Black criminal defendants.