June 24, 2020

Building Public Trust in the American Justice System

In February 2017, the American Bar Association Board of Governors adopted the report of the ABA Task Force on Building Public Trust in the American Justice System. The ABA created the task force in July 2016 in the face of increasing racial tensions, retaliatory violence against police officers, and a growing sense of public distrust in our nation’s justice system. The task force was charged with determining the role that bar associations might play in restoring the public’s trust. The task force report calls on the ABA and state and local bar entities to:

  • Encourage the adoption of best practices for reforming the criminal justice system;
  • Build consensus about needed reforms and work to carry them out; and
  • Educate the public about how the criminal justice system works.

Privatization of Services in the Criminal Justice System

Privatization of Services in the Criminal Justice System Report

Privatization of Services in the Criminal Justice System Report

Released in June 2020, this Report provides an comprehensive overview of the role private companies play throughout the criminal justice system and how the use of these private companies impacts low-income individuals moving through the system. The Report summarizes research done by other entities, academics, journalists, and activists on specific aspects of privatization. The organization of the report tracks the sequence of a typical accused individual's experiences in the criminal justice system following arrest, demonstrating how costs compound as the individual moves through the system.

The Report acknowledges that courts and other government entities sometimes need to import expertise they lack, but it urges governments to recognize how low-income individuals too often can be relentlessly ensnared in the criminal justice system, not because they engage in ongoing criminal activity, but because they cannot pay the debts imposed by the system itself. Too often, by hiring private companies to handle what were previously governmental functions in the criminal justice system, government agencies exacerbate the cycle of mandatory fees, nonpayment, and consequent additional fees. Far too frequently, government authorities allow private companies to operate in the criminal justice system with little or no oversight and to charge fees untethered to actual costs.

The Report urges the ABA to adopt specific policy on the privatization of services in the criminal justice system, as well as to promote the policies, already in existence, calling for careful limitations on fines and fees.

View the Report>>

ABA Ten Guidlines on Court Fines and Fees

Ten Guidelines on Court Fines and Fees

Ten Guidelines on Court Fines and Fees

Adopted as policy by the ABA House of Delegates in 2018, the 10 Guidelines on Court Fines and Fees provide practical direction for government officials, policymakers and others charged with developing, reforming and administering court fines and fees. The Guidelines seek to ensure that fines and fees are fairly imposed and administered and that the justice system does not punish people for the "crime" of being poor.

Creating Dialogues

The ABA established the Working Group on Building Public Trust in the American Justice System to collaborate with state and local bar entities, actively recruiting local organizations and stakeholders to host meetings in their communities, in order to create dialogue and promote the critical work needed to improve the public’s trust in the American justice system.

This website hosts the ABA Toolkit on Building Public Trust in the American Justice System and related resources, intended to serve as a guide for hosts and facilitators at local community meetings.  This website also serves as a compendium of active bar efforts in this area.  We hope that you will find it useful to your efforts in your community.

Dialogue Toolkit

Planning Checklist (Courtesy of Divided Community Project)

Facilitator's Guide Materials
(Courtesy of Kettering Foundation - National Issues Forum Institute)


Report: Task Force on Public Trust in the American Justice System | January 2017

Resources

  • Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing (U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, 2015) Website
  • President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing Implementation Guide: Moving from Recommendations to Action. (U.S. Department of Justice's Office of  Community Oriented Policing Services, 2015) Website
  • The Divided Community Project, housed at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. Website

    Key Considerations for Community Leaders Facing Civil Unrest (PDF)

    Planning in Advance of Civil Unrest (PDF)
  • Harold Franklin Remarks (PPT) | Equal Justice in Law Enforcement ("EJLE") Initiative | Presentation to National Conference of Bar Presidents
  • Dana Tippin Cutler Remarks (PPT) |"Building Bridges: Lessons Learned from Ferguson" | Presentation to National Conference of Bar Presidents
  • The National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation Resource Center.  Website
  • A Public Voice 2017, Safety & Justice toolkit, “How Should Communities Reduce Violence”, especially the Issue Guide, Issue Map and Moderator Resources. Website
  • United States Department of Justice Community Relations Service. Website
    See especially the Community Relations Services Toolkit for Policing, “Policing 101,” click here and "Perceived Excessive Use of Force: Addressing Community Racial Tensions," click here
  • S.L. Carpenter & W.J.D. Kennedy, Managing Public Disputes: A Practical Guide for Government, Business and Citizens' Groups (Wiley & Sons 2001), a hands-on guide for handling public disputes.  See especially "Ten Proven Principles for Managing Conflict and Step-by-Step Procedures for Creating Productive Outcomes."
  • ALI Principles on Use of Force to be presented for approval at the ALI's Annual Meeting. View Video