Criminal Justice Section
Criminal Justice Magazine
Volume 18 Number 4
By Kenneth B. Nunn
Kenneth B. Nunn is professor of law at the University of Florida Levin College of Law and current chair of the Criminal Justice Section’s Committee on Race and Racism in the Criminal Justice System.
The racial disparities in our criminal justice system are obvious to anyone who has spent more than a passing moment in a courtroom, prison, or jail. Recent data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics disclose the extent of these disparities. Although African Americans account for only 12 percent of the U.S. population, they comprised 45 percent of prison inmates in 2002—almost four times greater than their incidence in the population. African-American men are eight times more likely to serve time in prison than white men; at current rates of incarceration, about a third of African-American males will spend some time in prison during their lifetimes.
Whether these disparities are the result of intentional discrimination, institutional environments, or external societal factors is open to debate. The criminal justice system’s imperative to treat all who come before it equally and to do so with an appearance of fairness, however, is not debatable. Encouraging respect for cultural, ethnic, and racial differences within the criminal justice system can help promote both of these goals. Ultimately, the criminal justice “system” is made up of individuals—judges, prosecutors, police officers, defense attorneys, social workers, probation officers—and how each of these individuals treat people who come into contact with the criminal justice system contributes to how the system is perceived.
Diversity training may be a way to ensure that all who come before the criminal justice system are treated fairly. Simply defined, diversity training involves helping individuals and organizations understand human differences, develop cross-cultural communication skills, and work effectively in multicultural environments. Companies no longer view diversity training simply as a way to avoid employment discrimination lawsuits; such programs now are seen as a way to enhance the company’s efficiency and earning capacity—a human relations tool that also helps to better serve their customers. Over 75 percent of Fortune 500 companies have instituted diversity training programs, and many smaller companies are following their lead. In adopting these programs, businesses are not looking to cast blame for disparities in the workforce or differences in the way services are provided to their customers. Instead, businesses embrace diversity training because they believe preparation and training can eliminate problems and improve conditions regardless of who may be at fault.
The business world’s proactive approach to diversity training may also be of value in criminal justice settings. Judges, prosecutors, and defenders can benefit from learning how to interact respectfully with citizens, defendants, and coworkers from diverse cultural backgrounds. As in the business community, diversity training is a way to enhance the effectiveness of actors within the criminal justice system, not to assess blame for racial disparities found within the system.
Three years ago, the Committee on Race and Racism in the Criminal Justice System undertook a long-term project: to create a diversity training program that responds to the system’s needs. The program will develop curricula that includes the following procedures: training prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys to assist with the various aspects of charging decisions; representing clients; consulting with victims; interviewing and cross-examining witnesses; and working with family members whose race, ethnicity, or culture differs from the attorney’s.
To begin, committee members conducted a cursory survey of national organizations to determine what, if any, diversity training materials were already available for criminal justice practitioners. Organizations contacted include the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, the Federal Judicial Center, the National Center for State Courts, the American Bar Association, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, and the U.S. Department of Justice. A review of the solicited materials, primarily written documents and videotapes, revealed that no training focused on the specific needs of prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys. At the same time, the respondents noted how valuable such training would be. The organizations also expressed strong interest in incorporating the committee’s focused training, once fully developed, into their own programs.
Based on this initial assessment, the committee developed a more comprehensive plan to review the programs and materials that provide such trainings and proposed retaining a research consultant to conduct the survey and assess existing diversity programs at the local, state, regional, and national levels. The committee will reevaluate the material after it receives the consultant’s report to determine whether materials adequate for use in developing a diversity training program already exist. If so, this material then will be gathered into a report in the form of a resource manual that lists and describes the programs, notes key contact persons, and details the types of resource materials available, including other pertinent information that might be useful to people developing similar programs.
If the materials already in circulation do not meet the needs of the proposed diversity training program, the second phase of the project will begin: to develop a model core curriculum specific to the needs of prosecutors and defense attorneys. This phase also would require the work of a consultant, to review existing programs, network with experts in the field, and ultimately be responsible for tailoring a model curriculum for prosecutors and defense attorneys. The final version of the model curriculum would be circulated to interested offices and organizations for use in planning diversity training programs.
Presently, the Committee on Race and Racism in the Criminal Justice System is in the process of securing grants and additional funding from foundations and other criminal justice organizations. The Criminal Justice Section Council already has provided a seed grant of $4,000. If you would like more information about the diversity training project or can suggest potential funding sources, please contact Kenneth Nunn, chair of the Committee on Race and Racism in the Criminal Justice System, at firstname.lastname@example.org .