Portrait of Spurgeon Kennedy

The end of February marks the end of Black History Month. The month is a time to recognize the achievements and contributions of Black individuals in shaping American society. It also is a time to recognize the importance of advancing the ideal of racial equality, especially in America’s youth and adult justice systems. This starts with acknowledging the impact of systemic bias and inequity within the justice system on communities of color.  

At CJI, we do not commit ourselves to these ideals for just 28 days in a year (okay, 29 days this year). Rather, one of our organizational values is recognizing racial inequities in justice systems and using data to highlight these issues and find solutions that improve equity. Our mission advances using research and data to drive real change in justice systems—including change that promotes more fair and equitable processes and outcomes. 

Most importantly, our approach requires us to deal honestly and respectfully with stakeholders. In my 40-odd years in the field, I have met precious few people who harbored explicitly biased viewpoints. The bias we see in our justice systems is embedded in those systems, not necessarily the people who work in them. Most stakeholders want to treat all their citizens fairly and implement effective policies and procedures. But they want to work towards real improvement in an environment that values objective research and eschews personal blame for systemic problems. That is why CJI endorses collaboration to create authentic and effective partnerships with stakeholders, data-driven approaches to identify and address real system issues, and building diverse and inclusive teams that bring a range of skills, experiences, and backgrounds to our work. 

Black History Month reminds us that the phrase “liberty and justice for all” should not simply be words, but the reality to which we as criminal justice practitioners espouse.  

I believe CJI’s collaborative approach, focus on data-driven solutions, and dedication to inclusiveness is the best way to assure that equity becomes the norm in America’s courts. I am proud to be a part of this organization and proud of the CJI staff’s daily work in making that goal a reality.