Washington’s juries have a diversity problem, survey finds

By: - July 10, 2023 2:22 pm

Washington’s juries don’t accurately represent their communities, according to a state survey. (Getty Images)

People of color and those with lower incomes are underrepresented in Washington’s juries, according to a report released Monday. 

Black and Native jurors in particular “continue to face greater barriers to jury service,” Frank Thomas, an analyst for the Washington State Minority and Justice Commission, said in a statement.

The study, completed by the Minority and Justice Commission in partnership with Seattle University researchers, collected nearly 250,000 usable survey responses over 17 months in 2022 and 2023. The authors of the report say it’s the largest and most comprehensive survey to date of juror demographics in Washington. 

On average, people who reported for jury service were more educated and had higher household incomes than the median in their respective counties. In Pierce County, the only county studied where data from different steps of the jury selection process was collected, more women showed up for jury selection but men were more likely to make it to the last stage of the process.  

Of all survey respondents, 64% indicated experiencing a conflict or hardship as an obstacle to jury service. Barriers included work, caregiving and personal health. Women across all racial groups were more likely to report child care, taking care of aging family members or other dependent care as a barrier.

The report uses data from demographic surveys required under a state law the Legislature passed in 2021. The purpose of the effort is to determine whether people reporting for jury duty are representative of their respective counties’ demographics.

In Seattle Municipal Court and five county court jurisdictions the report looks at, Black or African American survey respondents were underrepresented in the jury process, appearing at about 60% or less than the levels that would mirror their overall share of local populations. 

The same metric for American Indian and Alaska Native populations was also “underrepresentative across the board,” but to a lesser degree, the report said. 

Survey responses in some of these categories were low – less than 100 in some cases – the researchers caution. Another caveat with the findings is that the report only includes data from people who responded to their jury summons and chose to complete the survey. 

The study authors offered recommendations for future research, including: studying the demographics of people who do not respond to summons; pilot programs to test the effects of juror pay increases; and looking at whether the master lists jurors are drawn from are representative of local populations.

The report notes there are plans to continue survey work on jury demographics under legislation lawmakers approved this year.

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Grace Deng
Grace Deng

Grace Deng joined the Washington State Standard shortly after graduating from Northwestern University in June 2023. Grace, who currently lives in Tacoma, is a local Washingtonian who was born and raised in Snohomish County. She has previous experience covering statehouse politics and policy for the Minnesota Reformer and the USA TODAY Ohio Network, which includes the Columbus Dispatch, the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Akron-Beacon Journal.