Vera Institute of Justice Report on Necessary Reforms to the Criminal Legal System in Wyandotte County, Kansas

August 23, 2023

Contact: Nico MacDonald,

Wyandotte County, KS – The impact of mass incarceration in the United States is a pressing issue that continues to affect communities nationwide. In 2021, the national incarceration rate was 827 people per 100,000 U.S. residents held in prisons and jails. Kansas is slightly above the national average, with an incarceration rate of 846 people per 100,000 residents. The Vera Institute of Justice worked with Wyandotte District Attorney Mark Dupree, residents, and community-based organizations to research the racial and economic disparities present in the criminal legal system of Wyandotte County, Kansas. The research findings of this report, based on both quantitative and qualitative analyses, highlight a range of disparities from policing to charging, raising critical questions about equity and justice.

Envisioning Safety: Community-Driven Prosecution Reform in Wyandotte County findings underscore significant racial and economic disparities in various aspects of the criminal legal system, shedding light on historical and contemporary factors contributing to these discrepancies. What makes this research unique is its use of a participatory action research framework, which centers community knowledge and experiences. Vera partnered with 20 community-based organizations in Wyandotte County to connect with community members, ensuring their voices were at the forefront of the study. The research team used focus groups, surveys, and interviews to document the perspectives of individuals impacted by the criminal legal system.

"This research highlights the urgent need to re-evaluate the role of the criminal legal system in supporting public safety," said Mona Sahaf, acting director of the Reshaping Prosecution initiative at the Vera Institute of Justice. "The data-driven insights and community perspectives emphasize the critical importance of reform efforts that address racial and economic disparities from multiple angles."

Wyandotte County's average combined jail and prison incarceration rate for 2019 was 1,330 per 100,000 residents, approximately 37 percent higher than the state's average of 969 per 100,000 residents at the time. Researchers at Ohio State University demonstrated a connection between discriminatory practices such as redlining in the 1930s and present-day disparities in criminal justice involvement. Neighborhoods that historically received low grades due to redlining were found to be most impacted by the criminal legal system, with higher rates of poverty, unemployment, and insufficient access to health care.

Key findings from Vera's research reveal disparities in policing, non-public safety stops, bail, pretrial detention, plea deals, and charging. Racial profiling, unequal bail practices, extended pretrial detention periods, and lack of trust in the system were identified as contributing factors to these disparities. The system's dehumanizing narratives and punitive charging practices further perpetuated unequal outcomes, particularly affecting Black and Latino communities.

Key findings of Vera's research include:

  • Policing and Non–Public Safety Traffic Stops: Minor traffic stops, which disproportionately target communities of color and those experiencing poverty, contribute to disparities in arrests and prosecutions.
  • Disparate Use of Bail: Bail amounts that are excessive and inequitable, particularly for communities of color and those experiencing poverty, result in prolonged pretrial detention and negative consequences for individuals.
  • Disparities in Pretrial Detention: Racial disparities persist in pretrial detention rates, affecting Black people disproportionately and leading to destabilizing effects on their lives.
  • Pressure to Take Plea Deals and Lack of Trust in Protection of Rights: Systemic pressures result in a higher likelihood of accepting plea deals, often fueled by a lack of trust in the system's protection of rights.
  • Race Differences in Charging: Bias in policing and charging practices for minor offenses contributes to racial disparities in the charging process.

Recommendations stemming from Vera's research emphasize the need for targeted efforts to address these disparities. Calls for transparency, education, and accountability within the criminal legal system were highlighted. Vera's research also highlights the urgency of rectifying these disparities to ensure equitable outcomes for all community members.

Read the full research report and learn more about the Vera Institute of Justice's efforts to combat racial and economic disparities in the criminal legal system.


About the Vera Institute of Justice: The Vera Institute of Justice is powered by hundreds of advocates, researchers, and policy experts working to transform the criminal legal and immigration systems until they’re fair for all. Founded in 1961 to advocate for alternatives to money bail in New York City, Vera is now a national organization that partners with impacted communities and government leaders for change. We develop just, antiracist solutions so that money doesn’t determine freedom; fewer people are in jails, prisons, and immigration detention; and everyone is treated with dignity. Vera’s headquarters is in Brooklyn, New York, with offices in Washington, DC, New Orleans, and Los Angeles. For more information, visit