Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) claimed on CNN last weekend that in her eight years as the top prosecutor in Hennepin County, Minnesota, the incarceration rate for African-Americans decreased dramatically.
"If you look at the data, you will see there was a 65 percent decrease in incarceration of African Americans when you go from the beginning of my term to the end,” Klobuchar told Jake Tapper on "State of the Union."
She was citing statistics from the Vera Institute of Justice. But, it set off some fact checking alarms for the editors at The Washington Post. After a week of analysis, they found that Klobuchar was relying on some "bad data" to embellish her record.
"The whole thing appeared to be too weird to be true," Glenn Kessler writes. "And it wasn’t true."
When we looked at the Vera data for Hennepin, this is what jumped out at us: Just about all of the drop for jail incarcerations took place between 2000 and 2001. It fell in one year from a rate of 870 African Americans per 100,000 residents to 307 in 2001. After that, the rate basically flatlined: 342 in 2002, 262 in 2003, 269 in 2004, 320 in 2005, 287 in 2006, and 321 in 2007. (The data indicates it is collected on Feb. 1, so 2007 is effectively Klobuchar’s last year.)
That means "there was a 65 percent drop in a year — with no real improvement after that."
The WaPo dug a little deeper, and reached out to Vera for more explanation. They reported back that, yes, something was off.
“I dug into the source data,” said senior data scientist Oliver Hinds. “It seems that starting in 2001, Hennepin reported to the DOJ that about half of the people in their jail were of unknown race. This was not the case in 2000. This creates a false perception that both the number of white people and black people in the jail fell dramatically, while the total number of people in jail did not change very much. The 2006 data has the same issue.”
"No meaningful statements about the number of black people in jail in Hennepin County can be made for the time Klobuchar was DA,” he noted.
Klobuchar's campaign responded to WaPo's fact check to offer the following clarification.
"The senator was citing data from the Vera Institute, a reputable source and organization that is doing great work to improve our justice system," a campaign representative said. "We have cited two stats from them relating to incarceration rates — one showing jail rates and another showing prison rates — and now that an anomaly with the jail rate has been discovered, we will use the prison rate moving forward.”
Still, how much credit she can take for that is debatable, as racial disparities remained "huge." As such, the WaPo gifted her Four Pinocchios.
PolitiFact, who initially concluded Klobuchar's statement was "half true," switched to "false" after WaPo's reporting: "After this review, we concluded that the data for jails is too compromised for us to rely on it."
Other reports have exposed how Klobuchar opted against charges in police-involved killings more than two dozen times.
One of Klobuchar's 2020 rivals, Kamala Harris, is also in some hot water for her prosecutorial record. As a district attorney and then the state’s attorney general in California, she reportedly kept individuals facing wrongful convictions in jail and pushed for legislation to criminalize truancy and fine or incarcerate parents. Critics have used these and other of Harris's controversial decisions to point out she's not as "progressive" as she says.