Analyzing Racial Disparities in Arrest Rates

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City of Philadelphia Office of Criminal Justice





Organization Overview:

The Office of Criminal Justice advances community safety and well-being through collaborative and data-driven initiatives in Philadelphia’s criminal and juvenile justice systems. Key strategies include:

  • Identifying and dismantling systemic barriers to racial equity
  • Fostering community partnerships
  • Increasing opportunities for diversion from the justice system to community supports
  • Safely reducing the local jail population

Project Name:

Analyzing Racial Disparities in Arrest Rates
Project Type: 
Policy Analysis

Project Overview:

The Office of Criminal Justice manages Philadelphia’s participation in the MacArthur Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC), which is a multi-year initiative to reduce the local jail population while decreasing racial inequity. Since SJC began in 2015, Philadelphia’s local jail population has decreased by over 50%. However, racial inequity in the jail population has only worsened during this period. Black people now make up nearly three-quarters of the jail population (up 5% since 2015), despite only making up about 44% of the City’s population. By contrast, white people compose less than 9% of the jail population and over a third of the City’s population. The Office of Criminal Justice is committed to the urgent work of tackling systemic racism in the local justice system, in collaboration with government and community stakeholders.

Through the SJC, Philadelphia’s criminal justice partners have developed a collaborative process to address racial disparities in outcomes at key decision points in the justice system. This project will focus specifically on reducing racial disparities at arrest, the entry point to the system. It will involve partners from across Philadelphia’s criminal justice agencies, including the Managing Director’s Office (MDO), the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD), the Defender’s Association of Philadelphia (PD), the District Attorney’s Office (DAO), the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, and the First Judicial District. It will also center the insights of community representatives.

The project will begin by convening the group of stakeholders to investigate disparities at the point of arrest, based on an existing Dashboard on disparities. The group will use the Dashboard to identify a target population in which arrest disparities are particularly pronounced (e.g. a specific police district), conduct additional quantitative and qualitative analyses to unpack drivers of these disparities, and come up with targeted solutions to address them. The process will be informed by promising approaches from other cities. The process and findings will serve as a pilot to demonstrate how a collaborative process of investigation can result in concrete policy and practice changes to reduce inequity.


  1. Promising Practices Memo: Research promising approaches taken by other cities to reduce racial disparities in police contacts and arrest rates. This memo will be due by February, 2021.
  2. Research Report(s): Work with supervisor and research staff to assist with quantitative analysis of data supplied by criminal justice partner agencies. The scope of these analyses will be determined by the stakeholders and will be designed to shed more light on the disparities identified in the Dashboard. These analyses will be completed by May, 2021.
  3. Research Presentation: Develop a presentation that summarizes  the findings from the above research and analyses and serves as a springboard to generate policy and practice changes.  This presentation will be due in June, 2021.
  4. Process Memo: Work with supervisor to develop a memo summarizing the collaborative process  undertaken to investigate and address arrest disparities for a target population. This will involve taking meeting notes, organizing project documentation, and writing a draft. The memo will serve as a case study and  blueprint for further investigation into disparities at arrest. It will be due at the end of the project period (August 2021).

Fels Institute of Government

The Fels Institute of Government
3814 Walnut St. 
Philadelphia, PA 19104

(215) 898-7326