The Racial Disparity Project's mission is:
1) to reduce racial disparity in the criminal justice system through community organizing, policy advocacy,
individual representation, public education, research and, when appropriate, litigation;
2) to reduce the harm caused by national and local drug policies to communities of color and individuals within those communities; and
3) to provide technical assistance to community partners working to achieve these goals.
The Racial Disparity Project (the RDP) at the Defender Association began in 1999 as a grant-funded project aimed at reducing racial bias in criminal justice through community organizing, public education and legal advocacy. Since 2001, our main focus has been racially disproportionate drug enforcement in Seattle. From its inception, the RDP has worked in close alliance with grassroots organizations that serve Seattle’s communities of color. The Minority Executive Directors Coalition of King County honored the RDP with its “Service and Advocacy to Communities of Color Award” in September 2004, and Mothers for Police Accountability recognized the RDP with its “Paul Robeson Award” in April 2005. Our approach to community-lawyer partnership was featured in NYU Law Professor Kim Taylor-Thompson's article, Taking It To The Streets, 29 N.Y.U. Rev. L. & Soc. Change 153 (2004).
Since 2001, the RDP has focused primarily on the drug war and reducing the harm caused by current law enforcement approaches. From 2001-2008, the RDP litigated a long-running selective enforcement motion to dismiss drug delivery charges against black defendants, ultimately securing dismissal or reduced charges for all defendants.
While engaging in litigation, the RDP has simultaneously worked on developing alternative, community-based interventions for drug-involved individuals. Since 2008, the RDP has been involved in designing and implementing an innovative pre-booking diversion program, called LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion). While LEAD is modeled on evidence-based practices that have been carried out in Europe and Australia, it is the first program of its kind in the United States. Under LEAD, law enforcement officers who arrest individuals for low-level drug or prostitution offenses may offer eligible individuals a different option: immediate access to community-based services, often instead of being booked into jail and referred for prosecution. Individuals who opt into the program meet with a case manager immediately. The case manager then works collaboratively with the individual to develop a plan to address the needs that led the individual into drug involvement. LEAD is funded by private foundations, and is being operated as a pilot program in the Belltown and Skyway neighborhoods in Seattle.
The RDP seeks to build on evidence-based practices by developing leadership skills among LEAD participants, and by enabling them to achieve full membership within their communities and to take on policy issues that impact the communities in which they live and work.
The RDP has also worked on a number of other issues affecting communities of color. Click here for more information.
The RDP is grateful for support from:
The Ford Foundation
The Open Society Foundation
The River Styx Foundation
The Massena Foundation
The Social Justice Fund Northwest