BIDEN Introduces Justice Integrity Act
Establishes Pilot Program to Study Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System
U.S. Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-DE), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs, along with Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA), Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) and John F. Kerry (D-MA), today introduced the Justice Integrity Act, legislation designed to increase public confidence in the justice system and address any unwarranted racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal process. The Justice Integrity Act will establish advisory groups in ten federal districts, under the supervision of the United States Attorney General, to study and determine the extent of racial and ethnic disparity in the various stages of the criminal justice system; make public reports on the results of their findings; and make specific recommendations to help to eliminate racial and ethnic discrimination and unjustified racial and ethnic disparities.
"Nowhere is the guarantee of equal protection more important than in our criminal justice system," said Sen. Biden, former Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "The reality is that despite the best efforts and intentions of policymakers, racial and ethnic disparities continue to plague our justice system. We need to step up our efforts in order to root these disparities out."
Studies, reports, and case law from the last several years have documented racial disparities during many of the stages of the criminal justice system--law enforcement contact with a suspect, arrest, charging, plea bargaining, jury selection, and sentencing. Nowhere is this more evident than in our prisons, according to data compiled by the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics. Minorities now make up more than two-thirds of persons convicted of offenses in State and Federal courts. At least 60 percent and, by some estimates, nearly three-quarters of prisoners in the United States are either African American or Hispanic. One of every three African American men born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime. Disparities in the criminal justice process like these engender a crisis of public trust in the integrity of our criminal justice system and raise the possibility that we are failing to make good on the Constitutional promise of equal protection.
"I came to the Senate 35 years ago because of the civil rights movement and because I wanted to help end injustices everywhere," added Sen. Biden. "America has come a long way in the fight for civil rights, but new and more subtle forms of prejudice still endure. For Americans to respect the rule of law, they must have faith that justice is attainable for everyone. The Justice Integrity Act will help us continue to fulfill the Constitution's promise that every American will enjoy the equal protection of the laws."
The Justice Integrity Act establishes a pilot program within the Justice Department to identify and eliminate unjustified disparities in the administration of justice. The program calls for:
* Ten U.S. Attorneys, designated by the Attorney General, are directed to appoint and chair an advisory group, composed of federal and state prosecutors and defenders, private defense counsel, federal and state judges, correctional officers, victims' rights representatives, civil rights organizations, business representatives and faith-based organizations engaged in criminal justice work.
* Each advisory group to systematically gather and examine data regarding the criminal process in its district and seek to determine the causes of any racial or ethnic disparity.
* Produce a report on key findings and recommend a plan to reduce any unwarranted racial and ethnic disparities, and thereby increase public confidence in the criminal justice system.
At the end of the pilot program, the Attorney General will produce a comprehensive report to Congress on the results in all ten districts and recommend best-practices going forward.
Numerous law enforcement and civil rights organizations have expressed their support for Sen. Biden's legislation, including the American Bar Association, the National Criminal Justice Association, and The Sentencing Project.
Thomas M. Susman, Director of the American Bar Association, said: "Growing racial disparities work to erode confidence among minorities in the fairness of the criminal justice system. All of us have a stake in the rule of law in our justice system, and we must continually aspire to achieve both the perception and reality that our criminal justice system is fair, unbiased and just. The ABA stands ready to work with you toward timely enactment of the Justice Integrity Act."
Cabell C. Cropper, Executive Director of the National Criminal Justice Association, said: "NCJA members applaud your commitment to analyzing the root causes of disparity, regionally and nationally. The Justice Integrity Act will provide tools for gathering and analyzing data and exploring the root causes of inequity. Only by learning what triggers and enables the disparity can we, as a society, work to reverse it. The American judicial system is known as a beacon for countries around the world. We must look unflinchingly at weaknesses where they exist and work together at the federal, state and local levels to ensure the administration of justice is fair, ethical and unbiased."