December 11, 2020

Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Bias in the Criminal Justice System

The ABA is committed to eliminating racial and ethnic bias in the justice system by reforming laws and policies that have had a disproportionate and catastrophic impact on Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Laws or policies that appear neutral on their face can nevertheless be implemented systematically in a disparate way, whether based on race, ethnicity, age, disability, or even sexual orientation.

Based on work by the ABA under grants from the Department of Justice, points in the criminal justice system that are at higher risk of bias include, but are not limited to, the treatment of youth; arrest; use of force; charging decisions; pre-trial detention and cash bail determinations; incarceration for the nonpayment of court fees and fines; sentencing; probation violation determinations; and in the imposition of collateral sanctions for convictions.

Following the death of George Floyd while in police custody in June 2020, both chambers of Congress examined more deeply the training and limitations of law enforcement in responding to the range of calls for help they receive, as well as bias in the use of lethal force.

Federal Legislation

A wide array of bills were introduced in the 116th Congress concerning the police and use of force. Following George Floyd’s death, negotiations between the House and Senate focused primarily on just a few bills that consolidated most, but not all, of those proposals:

The George Floyd Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act of 2020, H.R. 7100, Rep. Jackson Lee (D TX) The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020, H.R. 7120/S.3912, Rep. Bass (D CA); Sen. Booker (D NJ) The JUSTICE Act, S. 3985, Sen. Scott (R SC)

ABA Policy and Reports

Joint Statement of ABA-Legal Defense Fund on Eliminating Bias in the Criminal Justice System [add to site] ABA Report on Building Public Trust in the American Justice System ABA Racial Justice Improvement Project

Selected ABA Policies on Eliminating Racial and Ethnic Bias in the Justice System 2020 Policy on the Use of Lethal Force by Law Enforcement 2020 Policy on Qualified Immunity for Law Enforcement 2020 Policy on Use of Force Against Lawful Protesters, Journalists, and Legal Observers 2018 Policy on Department of Defense 1033 Program for Law Enforcement 2008 Policy on Practices to Prevent and End Racial Profiling

2003 Policy on the Fair Treatment of Youth 

1999 Policy Opposing the Practice of Racial Profiling 

Other reports Final Report of U.S. President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing