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Racial Justice Improvement Project


In 2010 the American Bar Association, Criminal Justice Section launched the Racial Justice Improvement Project (RJIP), with support from the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA).  The RJIP is designed to identify and reform policies and practices that produce racial disparities in local criminal justice systems across the country.  

While minorities have a higher rate of criminal activity in some crime categories, this does not explain why minority defendants who commit the same crimes, and have the same criminal history as white defendants, are more likely to be denied pretrial release, and are sentenced more harshly. Likewise, while there are some bad actors in the criminal justice system whose professional judgment is affected by racial bias, “race neutral” laws that are fairly and evenly enforced across all racial groups, can still have a disparate impact on minority defendants. 

Though RJIP began as a two-year, federally funded, initiative designed to identify and reform policies and practices that produce racial disparities in local criminal justice systems across the country, in 2013, subsequent to successfully administering policy reform in four jurisdictions, RJIP was awarded another grant from BJA to continue implementing policy reform in four additional new sites.  In addition, RJIP received additional funding from the Public Welfare Foundation to sustain and expand the original reform efforts and evaluate their effectiveness.  

The Advisory Board chose all of the project's reform sites through an evaluative process, overlooked by an independent evaluator. The four additional jurisdictions that began participating in the project in June 2013 can be viewed here.     



The goal of the Racial Justice Improvement Project is to create a pathway by which local communities can address critical criminal justice issues that contribute to the racially disparate impact of the criminal justice system. 

The specific objectives of the Project are to: 

(1) Pilot a Racial Justice Task Force Model to address the racially disparate impact of the criminal justice system in eight jurisdictions; 

(2) Provide facilitation and informational resources to each pilot jurisdiction to implement the Model (create a Task Force Group that formulates an effective pilot reform project); 

(3) Facilitate stakeholder consensus regarding the racial justice issues that exist in each jurisdiction, develop a work plan to address a specific racial justice issue(s) in each jurisdiction;  

(4) Evaluate the Pilot Model’s effectiveness in each site; and

(5) Create a sustainable plan for the Racial Justice Task Force beyond the pilot period.  


The RJIP's purpose is to work with officials in state and local criminal justice systems to identify the discretionary decision points in the adjudication process where policies and practices have an adverse impact on minorities, and to develop evidence-based policy reforms in an attempt to correct racial disparities.  An essential component of this policy reform initiative is having the work of each task force developed and implemented under the watchful eye of the top criminal justice officials in each jurisdiction, all of whom have the ability to make and change policies and practices, and the expertise needed to successfully implement reforms.  Each task force, in each of the four originally chosen jurisdictions (and new additional four jurisdictions), is composed of the district attorney, the chief public defender, the police chief, the chief judge of the criminal court, and a representative from a community organization that focuses on criminal justice reform. 

Related Resources

Racial Equity in the Justice System


Judging Without Jail

A Judge Embraces Diversion

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