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October 01, 2023 Women in Criminal Justice

Listening Authentically, Extending Inclusion

Sarah E. Redfield

Then CJS Chair Lucian Dervan convened the Women’s Task Force (Task Force) in late 2018, directing them to investigate gender-based barriers to hiring, promotion, and retention in the practice of criminal law. Consistent with this mission, Lucian appointed members who were diverse in race and ethnicity, age, sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), family status, ability, experience, and career paths:

  • Carla Laroche (Task Force Co-Chair, Felder-Fayard Associate Professor of Law, Tulane University School of Law)
  • Tina Luongo (Task Force Co-Chair, Attorney in Charge, Criminal Defense Practice, The Legal Aid Society of New York City)
  • Lara Bazelon (Professor of Law, Director of the Criminal & Juvenile Justice and Racial Justice Clinics, University of San Francisco School of Law)
  • April Frazier Camara (President & CEO, National Legal Aid and Defender Association)
  • Barbara Creel (Karelitz Professor of Law, University of New Mexico School of Law)
  • The Honorable Bernice Donald (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Ret.)
  • Daniela Donoso (Program Wide Immigration Attorney, Legal Services of North Florida)
  • Maria Carmen Hinayon (Compliance and Policy Investigator, University of California Davis)
  • The Honorable Denise Langford-Morris (JAMS Mediator and Arbitrator, Oakland County Circuit Court, Ret.)
  • Ann Ratnayake Macy (Adjunct Professorial Lecturer, Department of Justice, Law, and Criminology, American University)
  • The Honorable Gloria Ochoa-Bruck (Spokane Municipal Court)
  • The Honorable Rachel Pickering (Kansas Court of Appeals)
  • Sarah Redfield (Professor of Law, University of New Hampshire School of Law)
  • Lieutenant Colonel Susan Upward (Judge Advocate, U.S. Marine Corps)

The Task Force was ably organized and led by our multitalented reporter Maryam Ahranjani (Task Force Reporter, Ronald & Susan Friedman Professor of Law, University of New Mexico School of Law) and supported by an equally talented Advisory Committee.

Listing the charge and members of the group in this way is accurate and might almost be enough given the experience that is represented. But such a description misses what the group became as it proceeded with its work—a committed and cohesive group tremendously dedicated to the task at hand, and, as it turned out, to each other and to the other women we met in the process—and in a larger sense, to all women in criminal justice.

From the very beginning, we were committed to hearing many voices, including—especially including—voices of women who were not always sought or heard. To this end, members of the Task Force and Advisory Committee conducted surveys and focus groups. We traveled across the country for 12 listening sessions deliberately designed to hear from a very diverse spectrum of women. Throughout, we sought to define diverse as broadly as possible, including race and ethnicity, gender, SOGI, ability/disability, socioeconomic status, family status, language, work and life experience, and employment and career placement. We heard from people in small and large places, in cities and rural communities. We heard from students just beginning their careers and from those whose careers were now decades in the making. We heard from a wide array of practitioners, professors, and judges from the full spectrum of criminal practices. And, not surprisingly, we heard from those who had left the practice of criminal law to take up different areas of practice or to establish themselves in other occupations.

We listened, and we listened, and we learned. We were touched, influenced, and inspired by what we heard. Depressingly so, as we heard stories about women not being recognized as attorneys, not being paid fairly, not being promoted fairly, and not being given credit for their work. These were stories that had been the same for decades. We cried in some places as we heard stories about women’s struggles at different stages in their lives: efforts to find a safe, clean, and private place to breastfeed or pump milk for their babies; efforts to meet the challenges in daycare and education options for their children; efforts to support their parents and other family members—and still continue to work. We grieved with others as we heard about the abuse, harassment, and bias in their communities.

As we listened and learned, two points crystallized: one, so clearly a negative; the other so clearly the opposite. Both feel like key and core realities. First, the negative: So many, many of the stories we heard were the same—the same as from others in Task Force sessions—but, even more negatively, they were the same stories that I (and other members of our group) would have told when we started our careers decades ago.

Second, the positive: We learned from each other and supported each other to help us hold on to the view that, although the work for equity was painfully slow, it was happening and, at least in part, it was happening with us. We collectively became a force for change, a much stronger force than any one of us alone had been. That is, as discouraging as it was to continue to bear witness to the intransigence of employers and institutions to advance and sustain authentic inclusion and equity for women, other things also happened, substantively and personally for the Task Force. The substantive work of the Task Force is described in several other articles in CJS and other publications, as are the substantive principles that were distilled from this work to become the basis for a resolution presented by the Criminal Justice Section and adopted by the American Bar Association House of Delegates, Resolution 501, Ten Principles to Achieve Gender Equity in the Criminal Legal Profession, and Report (Feb. 6, 2023), (the accompanying Report includes citations to CJS articles and other resources).

The adoption of Resolution 501 recognized and reflected the groundbreaking work of the Task Force and was a stellar accomplishment for CJS. But again, the reporting of this fact does not convey the full message. The facts and reporting miss the human part of the Task Force’s work. Without labeling it as such, we were directly addressing one of the problems that so many women face: their loneliness and often their isolation. In contrast, we became friends with each other; we celebrated children and grandchildren, we supported each other through COVID and as parents and others dear to us died. We became coaches, mentors, and sponsors for each other. We celebrated major publications and awards as well as promotions and elections to tenured professorships, judgeships, and one Lieutenant Colonel. Indeed, I’m sure that our support and coaching played some small part in those successes.

Throughout the work, we shared our own lived-experiences and an understanding of how this related to what we heard and learned in the larger circles of our work. We saw our connections among ourselves and to those who worked with us—and their connections with us and with each other. It was as we reflected on this small and then larger group that we understood the meaning of an ingroup, a group that shared cultural experiences even while we were so diverse in so many ways. And it is this last point that I think is the true takeaway for the Task Force: It is important not to allow ourselves to be isolated; it’s critical to see our commonality with other women and to find support and offer support to them. It is equally critical not to isolate ourselves from our allies, but rather acknowledge the important sustaining support from Lucian in starting this work and from all of our colleagues who worked to see the Ten Principles become a reality adopted by the ABA as Resolution 501. It is a step we all achieved—the Task Force and all who came together in this work.

In defining the problem and making clear its genesis and the contours of its resolution, we have taken an important and necessary step to get leaders in our field to themselves discuss and own the Ten Principles and put in place structures and practices to bring about real change. But, of course, the even harder work remains. The work of the Task Force to date has incorporated a continuous feedback loop of listening, research, writing, and listening again. The work now needs to continue that loop to a more action-based agenda in the field among our colleagues. We look forward to cooperating to these ends with those we’ve included so far and all the criminal justice community writ large.

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Sarah E. Redfield

University of New Hampshire

Sarah E. Redfield is Professor of Law at the University of New Hampshire. She lives and works in York, Maine.

Together with the Honorable Bernice Donald she is co-editor of the recently published Extending Justice: Strategies to Increase Inclusion and Reduce Bias (2022) from the Carolina Academic Press and editor of Enhancing Justice: Reducing Bias (2017), available from the ABA website.