Director of Communications
State court leaders launch national initiative to improve racial equity in the justice system
Williamsburg, Va. (May 10, 2021) – The Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA), with support of the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), have launched a national initiative –the Blueprint for Racial Justice –to take immediate and recognizable steps toward improving racial justice, equity and inclusion in the justice system. The Blueprint’s goal is to ensure that all court users, litigants, and community members across the country are heard, listened to, and respected by the nation’s justice system.
The Blueprint supports a resolution recently adopted by CCJ/COSCA that calls for state courts to “intensify existing efforts” to improve racial equity within the justice system and to examine what change is needed to make equality under the law a reality for everyone. This effort is being led by a steering committee comprised of four state court chief justices -- Anna Blackburne-Rigsby, District of Columbia; Richard Robinson, Connecticut; Paul Suttell, Rhode Island; and Martha Walters, Oregon -- and four state court administrators -- David Byers, Arizona; Nancy Cozine, Oregon; Laurie Dudgeon, Kentucky; and Tonnya Kohn, South Carolina.
The Blueprint will include policies, webinars, bench cards, and other resources to help state court leaders accomplish the goals outlined in the resolution. The steering committee has established four workgroups that will focus on the following issues:
- Equity and awareness
- Systemic change
- Communication and implementation
- Increasing the diversity of the bench, bar and workforce
The nation’s state courts have continuously worked on improving racial equity in the justice system, but social and racial events in the past year increased CCJ and COSCA’s concern that renewed efforts were needed. In Resolution 1, CCJ and COSCA “recognize that too many persons, especially persons of color, lack confidence in the fairness of courts and the criminal justice system.”
Resolution 1 calls for courts to:
- identify and address unconscious bias, and facilitate the uncomfortable conversations that arise from the recognition of such bias
- diminish the extent to which pretrial release depends on a defendant's ability to pay
- develop evidence-based practices in sentencing and throughout the criminal justice process
- establish proportionate sanctions for the failure to pay fines and fees for those who willfully fail to pay, and to prevent sanctions from being imposed on those who are financially unable to pay
- collect, maintain and report court data regarding race and ethnicity that enables courts to identify and remedy racial disparities
- develop career pathways to improve the racial and ethnic diversity of the bench, law clerks, and court staff, as well as the legal community
- engage in conversations with communities of color, so that, in the words of Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, our courts "get proximate" to the challenges faced by such communities
Details of the Blueprint will be announced as they are finalized.
The National Center for State Courts, headquartered in Williamsburg, Va., is a nonprofit court organization dedicated to improving the administration of justice by providing leadership and service to the state courts. Founded in 1971 by the Conference of Chief Justices and Chief Justice of the United States Warren E. Burger, NCSC provides education, training, technology, management, and research services to the nation’s state courts.