Study Finds Proposition 47 Reduces Disparity in Sentence Lengths Between African Americans and Caucasians by Half


News from the Office of District Attorney George Gascón


January 25, 2018

Twitter: @GeorgeGascon

CONTACT:     ALEX BASTIAN (415) 553-1931     |    MAX SZABO (415) 553-9089




SAN FRANCISCO – Today, District Attorney George Gascón released a report on racial disparities within criminal cases presented to and prosecuted by the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.  The independent report highlighted that Proposition 47 reduced the disparity in sentence lengths between African Americans and Caucasians by half.  The study also found that Proposition 47 reduced the percentage of African Americans being booked in the County Jail by 5 percent.  The review was requested by DA Gascón and was presented by its authors, Professor Steven Raphael of the UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy and Professor John MacDonald of the University of Pennsylvania at the San Francisco Reentry Council meeting earlier today.  The Frank and Denise Quattrone Foundation provided the grant to make the report possible.


“Our nation’s history makes the issue of race and justice an emotionally charged topic,” said District Attorney George Gascón.  “But if we are going to work towards a justice system that is more fair and equitable we must look within to see what we can do to level the playing field.  This report shows that there is much more work to be done, but that Proposition 47 has already played an instrumental role in narrowing racial disparities in San Francisco’s criminal justice system.”


According to the 2010 census, African Americans constituted 6% of the population in San Francisco. Between 2008 and 2014, however, they represented 41% of those arrested, 43% of those booked in jail, and 38% of the cases filed by the SFDA’s Office.


In recognizing these disparities, Professors Raphael and MacDonald investigated broadly the degree to which observed racial and ethnic disparities across numerous groups are attributable to “case characteristics” versus the policies and practices of the SFDA’s Office. The authors found racial disparities within the city’s criminal case outcomes are driven mostly by case characteristics, specifically the seriousness of the arresting offense, prior criminal history, and pretrial detention. They concluded:


“There is substantial variation across cases presented to the SFDA in the arrest charges, criminal justice status of individuals at the time of arrest (e.g., whether they have another open case or are on probation), criminal history, and whether the suspect is being detained. These predetermined factors are all strongly related to case disposition outcomes. Moreover, there are large racial and ethnic disparities in these factors.” 


When conducting this analysis, the authors also found the implementation of Proposition 47 had a narrowing effect on racial disparities for nearly all disposition outcomes. Notably, the percent of African Americans booked in jail declined from approximately 43 to 38 percent. Proposition 47 has minimized the impact of certain case factors in case outcomes, specifically reducing the impact of a suspect’s pre-trial detention and criminal history in court dispositions. As a result, the representation of certain racial groups within the criminal justice system, especially African Americans, has declined considerably.


  • The percent of cases involving African American defendants involved in felony drug arrests has declined from 23 percent to 9 percent.  
  • The booking rates for African American, Hispanic, and White suspects has declined by 14.8 percent, 10 percent, and 6 percent, respectively.  
  • The average number of detention days for White suspects has dropped to approximately 12 days, and to 18 days for African American suspects.
  • Booking rates and pre-trial detention disparities between African American, Hispanic, and White suspects has narrowed greatly.
  • The unadjusted African American-White disparities has dropped by half, with the remaining disparity fully explained by differences in arrest charges, status at time of arrest, and criminal history.

The study has furthered the office’s mission of better understanding the problems facing the criminal justice system and the tangible steps that can be taken to find solutions. The effects of Proposition 47 affirm the belief that legislative action can play a significant role in criminal justice reform efforts, including reducing racial disparity in criminal case outcomes.

Link to Report