Vermont Business Magazine Today Dr Etan Nasreddin-Longo, chair of the Racial Disparities in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice System Advisory Panel, will present the Panel’s report to the Legislative Joint Justice Oversight Committee. The report contains extensive recommendations to the Legislature regarding ways to ameliorate the racial disparities that exist in our criminal and juvenile justice systems. These recommendations include centralizing a bias incident complaint process, significantly expanding data collection efforts, and implementing reforms to reduce racial profiling. The report also discusses root causes of racial disparities and summarizes the Panel’s extensive policy considerations.
"I'm grateful to my fellow panel members for working hard and engaging in good faith in difficult conversations,” said Dr Nasreddin-Longo. “I hope the Legislature will work to enact these reforms in cooperation with communities of color."
The report quotes legal scholar and critical race theorist Frances Lee Ansley, who said: "By 'white supremacy' I do not mean to allude only to the self-conscious racism of white supremacist hate groups. I refer instead to a political, economic, and cultural system in which whites overwhelmingly control power and material resources, conscious and unconscious ideas of white superiority and entitlement are widespread, and relations of white dominance and non-white subordination are daily reenacted across a broad array of institutions and social settings."
The Panel submited the following recommendations that it believes will act to mitigate racial bias in the criminal and juvenile justice process, and in so doing reduce racial profiling—whether intentional or implicit:
• Ensure that Vermont statutes track existing federal requirements with respect to due process for those with limited English proficiency. For example, expand the rights established in 1 V.S.A. §§ 337, 338 for Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals to those who have limited English proficiency and require use of competent language interpreters as needed. Amend the scope of these statutes to include juvenile delinquency proceedings.
• Support the use of objective and simple screening tools by first responders, including 911 operators, to assess the need for mental health or substance abuse treatment and the involvement of behavioral health experts.
• Support the development and implementation of training designed to educate the public on their individual rights under federal, state, local laws and community traditions. The training should be focused on the people most affected by racial disparities and include training on where to report racially disparaging experiences.
• Implement and expand training for officers promoted into supervisory and managerial positions to ensure that people occupying those key law enforcement roles will hold all officers accountable on issues of race, racial disparities, cultural competency, and data collection. Continue and enforce high standards of training for all law enforcement officers to ensure cultural competency and education about issues related to race, racial disparities, cultural competency, race relations, and data collection.
• Expand and support the use of community policing approaches to law enforcement. Community policing encompasses a variety of philosophical and practical approaches to law enforcement, though at its core, it aims to bridge gaps between police and diverse communities in order to build trust and mutual understanding. The community policing model helps to break down barriers between law enforcement and the communities they serve, resulting in improved 5 information exchanges, more transparency, and less susceptibility for implicit biases to influence decision-making.
• The Panel did not adequately discuss associated penalties. The Panel will discuss this issue and present proposals in the future.
Summary of the Panel’s Data Collection Proposals:
• Increase data collection with respect both to court processes and administrative processes. Vermont should collect data that captures the high-impact, high-discretion decision points that occur during:
o the judicial processes within the State’s Attorneys’ Offices, the Office of the Attorney General, the Office of the Defender General, and the Judiciary.
o the administrative processes within the Department of Children and Families and the Department of Corrections.
o charging, bail and pre-trial release, plea bargaining, sentencing, and the usage of alternative justice options such as diversion.
• Expand and improve data collection with respect to law enforcement.
o Traffic stop data collection should be improved by providing resources for ensuring:
§ that the data is fully collected,
§ that the data is made fully available to the public more rapidly than it is at present,
§ that it is both collected and categorized consistently across the state.
o Data collection should be expanded to include information about use of force incidents.
• The panel strongly urges a commitment to staffing and other resources to collect and compile data properly. This could include:
o Creating centralized, statewide staffing with responsibility for assisting with data collection and compilation from police agencies and other entities across the state.
o A focus on consistency, clarity, and accessibility of data across all data collection efforts.
o Mechanisms to ensure accountability and compliance.
The Panel’s membership includes representatives of communities of color from around Vermont, as well as State officials working in the administration of Vermont’s criminal and juvenile justice systems.
This Panel was created by the Legislature and is organized under the auspices of the Office of the Attorney General. Attorney General Donovan thanks the Panel for its service, and is committed to working with Panel members and the Legislature to turn the recommendations into action.
A copy of the Panel’s report can be found here.
Source: Vermont AG 12.10.2019