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October 20, 2021 From the Chair

From the Chair

Wayne S. McKenzie

We embark on this new Bar year just as the nation struggles towards a safe but uncertain reopening and return to “normal.” The ABA must similarly define and find its “new normal.” What we know, after almost two years of a pandemic, social unrest, and raised voices shouting for criminal justice reform and racial equity, is that we simply cannot return to business as usual! It is in this environment and state of affairs that I am honored and humbled to assume the leadership of the Criminal Justice Section for the 2021-22 bar year and to work with the CJS Council and membership to define the Section’s “new normal” and voice at this time and in this criminal legal system space. I am encouraged by and thankful for the leadership of Past Chairs April Frazier Camera and Kim Parker for their work on behalf of CJS under the most challenging of circumstances. Similarly, the commitment of the CJS Council and past chairs, our committee and task force members, the dedication and support of Section staff, and the consistent participation of the CJS membership have all contributed to CJS continued struggle for justice reform. While a nation went on “pause,” the work of the Section continued without interruption.

When we consider the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and its devasting impact on marginalized communities, the similar deleterious and disparate impact of social and criminal legal systems on the poor and black and brown people in this country, the continued demise of unarmed black men and women at the hands of the police, the social unrest and activism that captured the conscience of a nation and the world, and even the politicized debate about the COVID-19 vaccine and climate change, it is clear. The winds of change are upon us. Or to steal the catchphrase from the hit series Game of Thrones, “Winter is Coming.” How we respond as a diverse legal community will either contribute to the further polarization of our nation or will strengthen our resiliency and resolve to extend the rights, benefits, and protections of the constitution and the rule of law to all people, not just those originally intended.

I understand that I don’t have the luxury of a single or signature focus for CJS at this time. We must and will push ahead with the mission championed by April and continue to “look in the mirror” and examine the Section’s role in contributing to race-based disparities and inequities, no matter how well-intentioned, in the criminal legal system. In that regard, we will step up efforts to examine CJS policies and resolutions through a racial equity lens to ensure that they are neutral not just in intent but in impact. We will continue to be intentional in promoting diversity and inclusion, in the broadest definition possible, within our ranks and the profession. The Section will continue its implicit bias work under the capable leadership of Professor Sarah Redfield and the Honorable Berniece Donald. CJS will likewise continue supporting the Women in Criminal Justice Task Force, co-chaired by First Vice-chair Tina Luongo and Professor Carla Laroche. CJS will also intensify its system reform efforts and work. Although the nation has made some advancements in the fight against mass incarceration, we know that more than four million individuals—twice the number of incarcerated individuals—are under some form of probation, parole, or post-release supervision. And far too often, a significant number of those individuals find themselves back in jails and prisons, not for new criminal transgressions or public safety threats, but non-criminal technical violations. So, it is my quest to not merely add the Section’s voice to the cry for reform, but my hope that we can establish a task force and ultimately national standards for community supervision—standards that focus more on redemption and reentry than on compliance and retribution. I believe that is the pathway to true and lasting public and safety and improved community health. Let’s transform the Department of Probation Supervision into the Agency for Community Justice and Opportunity.

Finally, the ever-present professional and membership goals: continue serving, supporting, and growing the CJS membership. As the nation struggles to return to in-person gatherings, the Section must not only join with the rest of the ABA to do so responsibly and safely but seek to embrace, exploit, and normalize the lessons the virtual environment has taught us. This experience has extended our reach. We have acquired new tools and methods to engage the membership, attract new and younger members, and add value to Section membership and active participation. The opportunities to continue the work of CJS in the virtual environment, and not just primarily during our in-person meetings, means more accessibility and inclusiveness for the CJS membership. Our young lawyers have a platform to engage, network, and benefit from building relationships with our more experienced members.

I understand that this agenda may appear aggressive, but within CJS, we have the talent, the technology, and, above all, the humanity to lean into these goals. I look forward to walking and working with Chair-elect Justin Bingham, First Vice-chair Tina Luongo, the CJS Council, membership, and past chairs to do so.

In service,
Wayne McKenzie

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Wayne S. McKenzie


Wayne S. McKenzie is General Counsel for the NYC Department of Probation and Chair of the Criminal Justice Section for 2021–22.