Assessing the Statewide Racial/Ethnic Impact of Proposed Criminal Justice Legislation in Florida

The College of Criminology & Criminal Justice has entered into a partnership with the Florida Senate to analyze the racial/ethnic impact of proposed criminal justice legislation and to provide empirically-based racial/ethnic impact statements for select bills that will be heard by the Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee. The project is a collaborative effort between numerous College faculty members and graduate students with expertise in the areas of racial/ethnic bias, criminal justice policy, and research methodology.

Criminological research has documented racial/ethnic disparities at various decision points, from arrest to sentencing, within the criminal justice system. However, when drafting legislation, policymakers oftentimes do not have information readily available about the possible racial/ethnic impacts that the policy may have. Currently, Florida Senate Staff produce a formal bill analysis each time a bill receives a hearing in a Senate Committee. The existing analyses provide a broad context on the wide-ranging impact of a particular bill, addressing topics including fiscal, private sector, and constitutional impacts among others. However, the analyses do not address the possible racial/ethnic disparities that might result from the proposed legislation.

To address this gap, the current initiative seeks to measure the potential racial/ethnic impact of a proposed policy, and will provide empirically-based information about whether a proposed criminal justice bill might disproportionately impact a specific racial/ethnic group. Using publicly-available state demographic and criminal justice system data, the College will produce annual forecasts of Florida’s population, including racial/ethnic make-up, age, and gender compositions, and forecasts of crime and justice processing from the period of arrest through sentencing. We will use the forecasts, empirical literature, and established outcomes of like or similar criminal justice laws/reforms to provide Florida legislators with the evidence-based racial/ethnic impacts of proposed pieces of legislation.

The current project is unique and represents a one-of-a-kind initiative. Only four other states–Iowa, Connecticut, Oregon, and New Jersey–require racial impact statements be included with criminal justice legislation that proposes changes be made to sentencing policies. The collaboration between the College and Florida Senate will be more expansive and comprehensive by including racial/ethnic impact statements for proposed pieces of criminal justice legislation that would alter policies related to all criminal justice decision points, from arrest through sentencing and correctional system placement.


Principal Investigator: Thomas G. Blomberg, Ph.D.

Faculty/Research Staff: William Bales, Ph.D., Sue Burton, Julie Brancale, Ph.D., Cecilia Chouhy, Ph.D.

Graduate Students: Nic Swagar, Kaylee Fitzpatrick, Jonathon Caswell

Collaborative Partner: Florida Senate

Dates: 2019