Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice describes reforms to reduce racial disparity, improve juries

Last year, racial disparities in Iowa’s criminal justice system were a major theme of Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady’s annual Condition of the Judiciary report to state legislators. Today Cady followed up by telling Iowa House and Senate members how the judicial branch is addressing the problem through training judges and staff, pilot programs aimed at reducing school referrals to juvenile court, early steps to change the rules on pretrial release of those charged with crimes, and better jury selection procedures. I’ve posted the relevant sections of his 2016 Condition of the Judiciary speech (as prepared) below. The full text is available here. Click through to read sections focusing on what Cady has described as the justice system’s six priorities:

• Protect Iowa’s children
• Provide full-time access to justice
• Operate an efficient full-service court system
• Provide faster and less costly resolution of legal disputes
• Operate in an open and transparent way
• Provide fair and impartial justice for all

Near the end of his speech, Cady discussed the largely unknown problem of human trafficking, which “exists as a dark underworld in many communities across Iowa and is associated with some of Iowa’s most iconic places and events.” I enclose those remarks at the end of this post. For more background on what trafficking looks like in Iowa, listen to this Iowa Public Radio program from 2012 or read Annie Easker’s investigative report for Iowa Watch. Bridget Garrity’s feature on a documentary film about trafficking is another good read. After advocates for trafficking victims raised awareness of Iowa’s poor legal framework for fighting such crimes, state legislators passed and Governor Terry Branstad signed major bills on trafficking during the 2014 and 2015 legislative sessions.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that Chief Justice Cady is a contender for all-time best appointee during Branstad’s oh-so-long tenure as governor. Who else is in his league?

II. Impartial Justice for All and Racial Disparity

Last year I raised the issue of racial disparity in the criminal justice system. The positive responses that followed from you and other Iowans have increased awareness of this complex issue. Let me tell you about the efforts of the judicial branch to address this issue.

One response has been to seek better understanding of the many causes of racial disparity. Last year, the judicial branch trained 716 judges, magistrates, and other judicial branch staff to recognize implicit biases that may contribute to racial disparities. We will continue this training this year.

Another response involves the juvenile justice system. Three counties—Johnson, Linn, and Scott—are collaborating with Georgetown University on juvenile court pilot projects. These projects seek to eliminate racial disparity in the juvenile justice system and its adverse consequences to our state. The Georgetown pilot project in Johnson County has reduced school referrals to juvenile court by sixty-one percent. The reduced number of juvenile referrals is encouraging, but the racial disparity remains too high. We know we have more work to do and will continue to work with communities to develop broad-based solutions to this complex issue.

Finally, in the adult criminal justice system, judges working on the front lines share with me that the existing standards and conditions for pretrial release in criminal cases can be improved. Research and new programs in other states reveal that standards for pretrial release can be modified to increase the opportunity for release without compromising public safety. As you know, people who are arrested suffer significant adverse consequences when they are unable to meet the standards for release from jail. Examples include the loss of a job, separation from family, additional debt, and an increased likelihood of future incarceration. We will work with our partners, including the Iowa Department of Corrections, the District Department of Corrections, county attorneys, and criminal defense attorneys to find ways to improve the pretrial release system.

Racial disparity is a community problem requiring community solutions. The journey to identify and eliminate racial disparity continues for all of us. When racial disparity and all of its causes are eliminated, justice is achieved.

IV. Modernizing the Jury System

Part of the judicial branch’s effort to deliver justice to all Iowans includes a modernization of the jury system. We are doing this in three ways. First, we provide training for judges on implicit bias and identify ways for judges to help jurors recognize the impact of implicit bias. Second, we have started planning to modernize our jury management software to give greater assurance that randomly selected jury pools represent a fair cross-section of each community. Third, we will begin to collect and maintain data on the racial composition of juries. This internal data will help us determine if the jury selection process we use could be further improved. The jury system holds a time-honored place in our system of justice, and it must be carefully maintained by us today. When all Iowans have full confidence in the fairness of our jury system, justice is achieved.

VI. The Injustice of Human Trafficking

As we strive to achieve justice, the injustice of human trafficking in Iowa has been brought to the forefront. Let me share with you the story of what Kellie Markey is doing to bring awareness to the problem and to help victims. Last July, Representative Zach Nunn invited me to visit Kellie at a shelter she established to care for children victimized by sex traffickers. The shelter is called Dorothy’s House. The shelter provides a safe place for these young victims to heal.

We can no longer view human trafficking as a problem reserved for major cities in America. It exists as a dark underworld in many communities across Iowa and is associated with some of Iowa’s most iconic places and events. There is no justice when children are abused and exploited. A prompt, comprehensive, and coordinated effort is needed to identify victims of human trafficking and provide the services and protection they need.

Last month, the judicial branch provided training on human trafficking to judges, juvenile court officers, law enforcement, and others. This training will allow our judges and juvenile court officers to better address the human trafficking cases that are emerging in our courts. We are also exploring how best to enable judges and juvenile court officers to work with the victims of human trafficking. We are encouraged and grateful for the response to this problem from the governor, members of this assembly, Commissioner Roxann Ryan and the department of public safety, local law enforcement, and many others. When we all stand up to join in the compassionate efforts of Iowans like Kellie Markey to address human trafficking, justice is achieved.

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