While racial disparities are prevalent throughout the criminal legal system, they are even starker when it comes to low-level, nonviolent offenses. Because mass misdemeanor criminalization is one major driver of racial disparities in arrests, prosecutions, and convictions, the elimination of aggressive policing practices and the decriminalization and presumptive nonprosecution of many low-level, nonviolent offenses should result in reductions in racial disparities. This working group is tasked with explicating the social harms that overpolicing and overcriminalization produce, assessing what recent policing reforms in Boston and the state have produced in terms of patterns of inequities, and offering recommendations and a strategic plan about what approaches are needed to make progress toward the eradication of systems of overpolicing and overcriminalization, in the process, significantly reducing the footprint of the system overall.

Research and Commentary Resulting from Roundtable Work

Reducing Racial Disparities through Decriminalization in Massachusetts: What Seems to Work and What Makes Matters Worse. Roundtable on Racial Disparities in Massachusetts Criminal Courts Policy Brief, March 2022.

Deborah Ramirez and Sandra Susan Smith, "SJC takes big step backward on racial justice." Commonwealth, February 12, 2022.

Sandra Susan Smith, Felix Owusu, and Stacey Borden, "Boston’s gang database should be dismantled." The Boston Globe, January 31, 2022.
(Related: Police removed 600-plus names from a Boston gang database. For some councilors, it’s not enough.)

Related Research and Commentary by Roundtable Members

Marilyn J. Mosby and Rachael Rollins, "The public safety benefits of not prosecuting low-level crimes." The Boston Globe, May 17, 2021.

Ramirez, Deborah, and Tamar Pinto. "Policing the Police: A Roadmap to Police Accountability Using Professional Liability Insurance." Rutgers UL Rev. 73 (2020): 307.

Sandra Susan Smith, “We’ve seen these proposed Boston police reforms before — they don’t work.” The Boston Globe, October 16, 2020.