ABA, NAACP Legal Defense Fund co-sign statement addressing bias in U.S. criminal justice system

The American Bar Association and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund issued a joint statement last week on Eliminating Bias in the Criminal Justice System.

The statement reflects the views of both organizations following discussions with 15 criminal justice experts about recent disturbing events that have led to a loss of public confidence in the American criminal justice system by portions of society. The statement outlines the role of police, prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges in addressing real and perceived evidence of racial bias in criminal justice.

The ABA and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund believe there is a crisis of confidence in the justice system that must be addressed, and the time to act is now. Among its concrete suggestions, the statement calls for:

-More complete and comprehensive data collection on interactions between law enforcement and citizens, and more transparency from prosecutors' offices on the use of prosecutorial discretion.

-More training and assistance for all members of the justice system on the problems that can occur from real or perceived bias.

-Promotion of dialogue about the criminal justice process between representatives of the judiciary, law enforcement and prosecutors, defenders and defense counsel, probation and parole officers and community organizations as well the community.

-More accountability and quicker response to issues that arise.

-A better understanding of the collateral consequences of convictions and the damage they can inflict on individuals who have paid their debt to society.

"The American criminal justice system is clearly in need of reform on multiple levels," said ABA President William C. Hubbard. "As lawyers, we have a duty and responsibility to ensure the fair administration of justice and to promote public trust in the system. The solutions are not quick or easy, but these proposals offer a tangible and potentially significant framework to make sure the system provides justice for all."

Sherrilyn Ifill, the president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, added, "The events of the last year have powerfully demonstrated the need for the members of our profession to confront the issue of racial bias in our justice system. We are very gratified that the ABA joined with us in convening a group of prosecutors to discuss the role they can play in dealing with this important issue.

"Both the ABA and the LDF share a commitment to building confidence in the rule of law that has been badly shaken over the past year among many Americans. Prosecutors and other members of the criminal justice system must play a role as we move forward in the critical days ahead. The measures identified by the ABA and LDF present a powerful framework for prosecutors who are committed to taking on the issue of racial bias."

Both organizations will continue to meet with prosecutors and law enforcement groups to support reforms and advance a dialogue among leaders in the profession and affected communities about how best to eliminate racial bias from the justice system.

Published: Wed, Jul 22, 2015