McCarthy said he is confident that he and his staff are trained to make proper decisions.
“But I want see if there are blind spots, if there is implicit bias,” McCarthy said.
The Montgomery state’s attorney’s office has about 85 full-time prosecutors in addition to investigators, legal assistants and victim-witness coordinators. They handle cases ranging from misdemeanor assaults to first-degree murders for a county of about 1 million residents.
McCarthy said the study is a reflection of increased demand for all parts of the criminal justice system to be examined for possible racial disparities.
“There is a public conversation that has seized hold in the country,” he said. “In a progressive community like Montgomery County, it’s an even louder conversation.”
The study will be funded through grants, foundation money and possibly the county budget, said Ramon Korionoff, a Montgomery state’s attorney spokesman.
“We will be looking to see if there are systemic patterns of inequality,” said Brian Johnson, one of the criminal justice experts leading the effort along with Melba Pearson.
Johnson is a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Maryland at College Park. Pearson is the director of policy and programs at the Center for the Administration of Justice at Florida International University. Pearson was formerly a prosecutor in Miami-Dade County and served as deputy director of the ACLU of Florida.
McCarthy said he is committed to giving researchers access to his staff and records. And he has agreed to publish their findings in two years, no matter what they conclude.
Pearson is a co-manager of the Prosecutorial Performance Indicators project, which has completed studies or is studying 11 prosecutorial offices, including the Cook County state’s attorney in Chicago, Pearson said.
The project will be applied in Montgomery County, with one of the first tasks being to study what kind of data and records the office keeps that will determine which of 55 possible “indicators” can be practically evaluated. The studies generally use 20 to 30 indicators.
One example: If the dismissal rates are higher for minority groups, the project says, prosecutors could be falling short of engaging with victims from those groups or operating under a system that “assigns unequal value to minority victims’ experiences.”