N.J.’s top court acknowledges racism, bias in criminal justice system. Here’s its plan to change it.

Published: Aug. 25, 2021

The state Supreme Court on Wednesday announced a new plan to combat racism and other inequities in the state’s courts, part of an ongoing effort to make judicial proceedings more fair for all New Jerseyans.

The court last July issued its Action Plan for Ensuring Equal Justice and highlighted nine changes to reduce disparities and obstacles in the criminal justice system. The move was spurred by the national racial reckoning following the death of George Floyd — the Supreme Court has acknowledged the disparities that remain in New Jersey, where more than half of those incarcerated are Black, but racial minorities make up a slim margin of judges.

The new plan focuses on nine other issues that disproportionately affect defendants of color, those living in poverty, with addiction or mental illness as they move through the court system.

“Despite the challenges of a global pandemic, the Judiciary worked hard this past year to attempt to lift some of the burdens that fall disproportionately on Black and Latino individuals in our communities,” Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said in a statement.

“Building on the framework and principles of last year’s Action Plan, the Court has again committed itself to a series of initiatives designed to foster a justice system that is accessible, equitable, and free from structural barriers and bias.”

The initiatives include supporting job training for those in drug court programs and probation, improving procedural safeguards for those with mental health issues and expanding access to legal representation, possibly through more pro-bono work, but also by allowing law school students and recent graduates to assist in cases.

The plan also requires implicit bias training for all employees of state courts and diversifying court appointments of experts, evaluators and mediators. Officials will also use lessons learned from virtual court operations during the COVID-19 crisis to modernize the processes, and adapt court language to become more inclusive and clear to the general public.

Last year’s action plan resulted in both short- and long-term changes to the court system, according to the announcement. More than $140,000 in juvenile fines were dismissed, and the Judiciary enacted a new automatic expungement process for those convicted of marijuana offenses. The courts also allowed people who achieved certain rehabilitative goals to end their probation early.

The Judiciary is still collecting data to determine if other reforms to the jury selection and landlord tenant processes have been effective, according to its statement. .

“These ongoing interrelated efforts are designed to support greater access, fairness, and equity for all who seek justice through the New Jersey courts, especially for individuals and communities who throughout history have been underrepresented and as a result have experienced less than true equality under the law,” according to the plan.

“Taken together, they are intended to ensure that our system of justice provides expanded options for individuals to connect with court services, understandable processes for navigating court systems, meaningful opportunities to be heard, and consistent procedures that support fair and unbiased outcomes.”

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-08-26 02:04:22 -0700