Ingham County looking at flagging bias in court system, will hear judge’s opinion


Ingham County commissioners may hire a third party to create a criminal justice monitoring system, tasked with breaking down the decisions coming out of the county’s courts and Prosecutor’s Office by demographic groups.

Under the proposal, the contractor would issue an annual report that would denote whether a specific judge or prosecutor is harsher toward a specific ethnic group, for example.

The idea stems from the Racial Equity Taskforce the county called in the shadow of data that showed vast health disparities in the county’s public health system that could not be explained by income class or any other factor. Infant deaths, heart diseases and other conditions were more common in the Black community.

Commissioner Todd Tennis said the proposed study of the courts would start with fresh data, not historical information. The idea is to see if, going forward, Ingham County falls into a trend he’s seen in other data that Blacks receive harsher judgments than white defendants.

In theory, once a contractor is selected and a report is finalized at year’s end, it would be publicly available, he said.

“For one, the public has a right to know,” Tennis said. “Also, I believe people are like subatomic particles in that they act differently when they are being viewed. If there’s any bias, the fact that they’re in the spotlight might alleviate that.”

The proposal to call for bids on this third-party study passed a county committee on Monday (Dec. 4), with the county’s Finance Committee scheduled to look at this today (Dec. 6).

Up to now, it’s received overwhelming support from the Democratic commissioners, including Thomas Morgan, who chairs the Finance Committee.

“I want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to make sure we have complete equity in our criminal justice system, but I also realize that there are some people who are beyond saving and need to be segregated from society. We also need to illegal guns off the street,” he said. “As for the details, I’ll leave it up to the experts.”

Commissioner Mark Grebner also supported the premise, but his request to add “statistical rigor” to the design criteria by bringing in people with an expertise in data collection and analytics went over with a thud.

The lone opposition on the commission, up to this point, is Republican Monica Schafer, who said she’s concerned that the study could influence the judges and prosecutor elected to adjudicate the law. She doesn’t want to see judges making decisions based on how it might look on a spreadsheet.

She suggested that working with the courts and law enforcement to gather information will strengthen the relationships within the county and reduce violence.

Planning to speak to the Finance Committee is Judge Joyce Draganchuk, the chief of Ingham County 30th Circuit Court. She said she supports the concept of weeding out biases in legal decisions but is concerned the commission may not be spending its money wisely.

Many of the court’s sentences are dictated by state law. Those who commit certain crimes must face certain prison time. There’s nothing a judge can do about that.

Roughly a third of Draganchuk’s cases are youthful training cases that are shielded from public view. A third party would never figure out what sentences those offenders received. This would skew a study’s results, she said.

In those cases in which a judge has more sentencing freedom, prosecutors and defense attorneys often cut plea deals. Out of respect for everyone involved, a judge tends to sign off on those decisions, Draganchuk said.

For the small number of cases that remain, Draganchuk noted that the State Court Administrator’s Office conducted a study of this type for Washtenaw County’s Circuit Court earlier this year. SCAO is preparing something similar for all of the state’s trial courts.

“I understand everyone’s concerns, but there’s a way to do this where you’re not paying for something and wasting your money.” she said. “You can get this done for free and it will be something meaningful.”

(Email Kyle Melinn of the Capitol news service MIRS at


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

Connect with us