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Commission Finds Justice Not Always Blind to Minorities

Commission Finds Justice Not Always Blind to Minorities

Posted - Apr. 19, 2004 at 4:13 p.m.



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Jed Boal ReportingDoes everyone in Utah get a fair shake from the law, regardless of race? Not always, but a commission keeping an eye on fairness in the justice system says there is slow progress.

Statistically in Utah, if you're a minority you're twice as likely to have a run-in with the law. That hasn't changed in the last few years, but there's more work being done than ever before to make the system fair.

Across the state many minorities think Justice is not blind. For the past three years The Commission on Racial and Ethnic Fairness has taken aim at the problems that lead to that perception. Releasing their second annual report, the commission members said there are still problems.

Leticia Medina, State Community Service Director, Co-chair: “For the most part, I think our systems are working to fix those things. It’s an every day struggle for some.”

It takes time to change attitudes and practices in law enforcement and in the courts. But the commission is moving ahead with one hundred recommendations it came up with 15 months ago.

One goal and challenge is to educate everyone in the state about the justice system. The system must be fair and perceived as fair.

Judge William Thorne, Commission Chair: “For the community to have what it's entitled to, it needs both the perception of fairness and the actual product of fairness."

The commission is collecting research on arrests, prosecutions and sentencing to gauge the fairness, but commission members admit there's a lot of distrust in the system.

Keith Hamilton, Private Attorney, Commission Co-chair: “As citizens of Utah, and members of the agencies, we're going to have to be diligent and vigilant about it every day."

Statewide law enforcement agencies are developing better policies for handling complaints, working on ethnic ties in specific neighborhoods, developing better policies to discipline officers, and recruiting a more diverse workforce.

Michael Zimmerman, Former Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice: “It's a lot of slogging and it can be disappointing, but it sure is worth the effort."

Whether or not improvement in judicial fairness is coming, there's certainly more attention being given to the issues. Research is coming and that should give the commission a better idea of what more can be done.

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