New York State Bar Publishes Independent Review of the New York State Court System’s Response to Issues of Institutional Racism

The New York State Bar has published the findings by the special adviser on equal justice, Jeh Charles Johnson. Over the course of the review Mr. Jonson conducted 96 interviews involving 289 individuals from across the state. This included interviews with judges, court clerks a range of practitioners within the system, and others involved in the New York State Courts. The two key findings from the report were that individuals of minority backgrounds were being fundamentally disadvantaged in terms of both the process and outcome of the courts. The report found that under-resourcing was disproportionately affecting minority communities, leading to unfair treatment. The report also found multiple instances of highly racist behaviour, and racist language being used by court employees, a matter of serious concern.

The report then went on to suggest a number of key responses that could be undertaken to improve the situation. These included:

  • Taking a top-down zero-tolerance approach
  • Expanding unconscious bias training
  • Addressing juror bias
  • Strengthening the Inspector General Process for Bias Complaints
  • Improving data collection around bias
  • Addressing diversity and inclusion in HR practices

Mr. Johnson said within the report: “This review comes at a particularly tense moment for race relations in America. Black Americans watch an unrelenting parade of video images of their people’s lives snuffed out like animals at the hunt, at the hands of law enforcement in this jurisdiction and beyond. They conclude, with considerable evidence to support it, that in the eyes of law enforcement their lives do not matter as much as those of whites. The very notion of equality under law is today cast in serious doubt. You are obviously committed to change and the assessment of hard questions, which is why you asked for this review. In my assessment as a lawyer, a student of history, a former public official, and as an African American, this is a moment that demands a strong and pronounced rededication to equal justice under law by the New York State court system. It is also my experience that credibility will only be earned if the public sees both strong commitments to reform at the front end and a sustained effort to follow through on those commitments, during your tenure as Chief Judge and beyond. ”

Read the full report here (PDF). 

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