Attorney develops computer program to help eliminate racial bias in prison sentencing

The program compares cases in every judicial district and the sentence meted out to determine what is just.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — In the judicial process, the question of racial bias in sentencing has long been a concern. In 2010, attorney Al Barlow was representing a 15-year-old teenager facing a sexual assault charge. Barlow said that experience revealed to him and his client the disparities in the judicial system.

“He did not deserve the maximum sentence,” said Barlow.

His client, an African American teenager, was sentenced to 15 years. Later Barlow would discover in identical cases around the sentence meted out was seven years. 

“Even if he did exactly what they said he did,  he doesn’t deserve 15 years,” said Barlow. “Number one, he has never been arrested before, number two, that is the maximum under the statute, number three, he was about to go to college and doing well in school. 

He said the case troubled his spirit. It was wrong, he said. 

A 2016 Florida study revealed bias on the bench; a disparity in prison sentencing based on the defendants race.  

Driven by his faith and his passion, Barlow founded Technology for Justice and developed Equity in Sentencing Analysis System (ESAS) a software program designed to removes racial bias in prison sentences.

“We built the program and now it is being used by four public defenders office in Florida and private attorneys all over the place,” he said.

The program compares cases in every judicial district and the sentence meted out to determine what is just.

It has collected data from two million Florida cases.

“It provides equitable sentences,” said Barlow. “It protects a person’s constitutional right to equally sentenced under the law as they sentenced other people who may not look like them.”

He said the program was launched in 2018 and on the Technology for Justice website there’s a list of cases and how the program has saved taxpayers money.

“The cases on the site have saved taxpayers over a million dollars,” he said.

How? Barlow said for every year it knocks off in a sentence that saves taxpayers $24,000.  

“It saves money on appeals, it saves time, and it saves peoples lives from being ruined,” he said.

This week the Florida Bar approved ESAS as one of the technology tools for its members. 

It also offered attorneys a discount to the subscription service.

“It has revolutionized sentencing and I believe in five years everybody will be using it,” said Barlow.

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