ABA logoThis morning, the American Bar Association and the NAACP released a joint statement on “Eliminating Bias in the Criminal Justice System.” It’s likely to get a lot of attention, for a few reasons:

  1. It offers a dozen specific recommendations that have the possibility of engaging the community and law enforcement and criminal justice officials in a deep and change-making way.
  2. It is a joint statement that is a result of collaboration between two persuasive organizations, the ABA and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
  3. It is drafted in straightforward language that faces head-on a crisis in race and policing.
  4. Its signatories include respected legal leaders, including prosecuting attorneys. (And it also includes Arizona’s own Professor Myles Lynk, of the ASU College of Law.)

The complete statement is available here.

NAACP LDF logoAmong the opening paragraphs are sentences like these:

“One would have to have been outside of the United States and cut off from media to be unaware of the recent spate of killings of unarmed African American men and women at the hands of white law enforcement officers. … Given the history of implicit and explicit racial bias and discrimination in this country, there has long been a strained relationship between the African-American and law enforcement. But with video cameras and extensive news coverage bringing images and stories of violent encounters between (mostly white) law enforcement officers and (almost exclusively African-American and Latino) unarmed individuals into American homes, it is not surprising that the absence of criminal charges in many of these cases has caused so many people to doubt the ability of the criminal justice system to treat individuals fairly, impartially and without regard to their race.”

After mentioning statistics on race in the criminal justice system and the recent Justice Department investigation of law enforcement practices in Ferguson, Missouri, the statement continues:

“Given these realities, it is not only time for a careful look at what caused the current crisis, but also time to initiate an affirmative effort to eradicate implied or perceived racial bias—in all of its forms—from the criminal justice system.”

Among its 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.
  • More hiring and retention of lawyers and officers “who live in and reflect the communities they serve” by prosecutors’ offices and law enforcement.
  • Greater use of body and vehicle cameras “to create an actual record of police–citizen encounters.”
  • 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.
William Hubbard, American Bar Association

William Hubbard, American Bar Association

In a press release, leaders of the two organizations offered remarks.

“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.”

Sherrilyn Ifill, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund

Sherrilyn Ifill, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund

“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.”

I look forward to more news on this topic. Specifically, which of the 12 recommendations are likely to be adopted first and on a widespread basis? Are any of these suggestions currently being implemented, but on a smaller scale, perhaps in a state or in one jurisdiction?

After reading the statement, write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org to offer your thoughts.

ASU Law Journal for Social Justice logoToday, some news from a noteworthy journal at the ASU College of Law:

“On March 1, join the Law Journal for Social Justice for a daylong symposium featuring attorneys, judges, community advocates, and legal scholars as we examine how to transform an inherently unfair criminal justice system into one that values fairness and efficiency.”

“Featured speaker Paul Charlton, former U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona, leads off the day with a discussion about ethics and sentencing reform. Other panel topics include vulnerable populations in the criminal justice system, the mental health crisis within the criminal justice system and ways to reform the system in a more fair and efficient way.”

More information on speakers, the agenda and a link to register are here.

And be sure to follow the journal on Facebook here.

ASU Justice conference March 2013 agenda and poster

John Jay College of Criminal Justice logo 2014This morning I posted some photos from a recent phenomenal criminal justice conference. It was held in New York City (and I mentioned it here and here).

The conference was aimed at members of the media who cover law and policy. The idea of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Guggenheim Foundation was to bring great sources to us, all in one place. Great idea.

Jeffrey Toobin, New Yorker writer and CNN analyst, Jan. 31, 2011

Some of the highlights from the two-day event:

  • A keynote by Judge Jonathan Lippman, New York State’s Chief Judge
  • A panel moderated by Jeffrey Toobin, New Yorker writer and CNN Analyst, which included ACLU President Susan Herman and Hon. Sue Bell Cobb, the Alabama Chief Justice
  • Panelists on challenges faced by the courts, which included Judge Robert Russell, whose visit to the State Bar of Arizona we covered before (here and here)
  • Speakers on criminal justice trends
  • Reports from the nation’s prisons
  • Special presentations on gun violence and cybercrime

Susan N. Herman, ACLU President

As part of my invitation to attend and be named a John Jay/Guggenheim Fellow, I committed to write a story on some element covered by the conference. A brief story on an Arizona criminal sentencing debate appears in our April issue (available in hard copy now and online April 1). A longer story on sentencing will appear in an upcoming issue.

More photos are available on the Arizona Attorney Magazine Facebook page.

Learning comes in all shapes and sizes. But some of the best is paired with good food, good drink, and great conversation.

This past week, I got to travel to the wintry East for a conference on criminal justice. I wrote before about how I managed to be named a Fellow, which garnered an all-expense-paid learning opportunity. Thank you to the Guggenheim Foundation and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice!

I’ll report later more about the conference and its roster of noteworthy speakers. For our Friday Change of Venue Day, though, I write about the conference’s kickoff session.

Given that the invitees were 26 journalists, it was a stroke of genius to host the first event in a bar.

Pardon me. I meant to say “public house.”

Kennedy’s Restaurant has been on West 57th Street for a generation or more. And that is where we gathered on Sunday evening, Jan. 31. We met for the first time and chatted about stories and story ideas. It was a wonderful event. But none of us knew it would be historic.

What we found out that night was that Kennedy’s was shutting its doors after last call—perhaps forever. Spiraling values in New York City real estate (even in a down economy) had led to a landlord–tenant conflict that could not be resolved. So the restaurant owners made the difficult decision to close up shop rather than pay a suddenly spiking rent.

Our event had been scheduled far in advance. But due to the oddity of circumstances, our kickoff was held alongside people enjoying and reveling in an evening that would signal the end of an era.

Not a bad analogy for journalism, come to think of it.

I took a few poor cell-phone pictures of the great old establishment (see below).

After I got home, I read more about the then-closed Kennedy’s. I was pleased to see it had been mentioned in 2010 by Esquire Magazine. As they described it in their “What Men Eat” offering:

The best Irish pubs in America do not look correct. They don’t look Hibernian or Celtic or some corporate idea of Hibernian or Celtic. They look only vaguely “Irish.” Take Kennedy’s, the closest decent bar to Esquire’s offices. Its stuff on the walls is actual stuff. Its patina is actually aged. The amiability of its bartenders seems genuine enough. And its fish-and-chips tastes and looks like exactly what you’re imagining right now. Exactly. It’s an American–Irish pub that is not trying too hard to be a pub. It just is one.

327 West 57th Street; 212-759-4242

Click here for more on Kennedy’s via Esquire.com (it is number 18 in the slideshow)

Have a great weekend, pub or no pub. And here are the photos.

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I just flew in from New York, and boy, are my arms … cold.

As I reported last week, I was attending a conference on criminal justice. It was terrific, but more on that later.

The unfortunate part of my trip was that it caused me to miss a potentially significant criminal justice event right here in Arizona.

On Tuesday, February 1, the Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice held a press conference to roll out its new report on criminal sentencing reform.

The New York conference I attended earlier this week touched on that topic quite a bit, and we will have an article on sentencing in Arizona Attorney Magazine in the coming months. There, we’ll also look at the AACJ’s proposals in more detail, as well as responses from many in the system.

Calls for change are perennial (even in Arizona). But what may make 2011 different is a budget crisis that is dire. Nationwide, statehouses are confronted by an array of awful choices. Decisions that reduce the corrections line item may begin to look attractive.

Arizona may be different. I’ve spoken to more than one state leader who says that the economic situation will have to be far, far worse before state legislators would consider reducing prison sentence lengths or aggravating circumstances that lead to (more expensive) prison time.

But a new movement of conservatives who seek sentencing reform may be the elephant’s nose under the tent. The Right on Crime project urges changes that will save states many resources. Will it have an effect here? We’ll examine that in our story.

You can read more about the AACJ report (and read the report itself) here

Want to read more about the Right on Crime movement? Click here.

And here is an Arizona Republic story on Tuesday’s presser on the Legislature’s lawn.

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