Civil Rights Groups: Increase Accountability in Policing & Transform the Criminal Legal System
WASHINGTON – Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, submitted written testimony today to the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice highlighting the need for transformative reform of policing at both the federal and state levels. The U.S. Department of Justice had invited civil rights groups to a forum in a last-ditch effort to legitimize the Commission, but the groups have cited the department’s failure to address the pandemic and offered policy solutions to respond to the fatal police shootings in recent weeks.
“The Commission should work to develop recommendations that promote transparency and accountability and to guide police departments large and small, urban and rural, to move toward a policing model that puts communities first and offers a transformative vision for fair, safe, and effective policing. This includes rethinking the use of prosecutorial discretion to help address systemic bias, discrimination, and inequity throughout the criminal legal system. The Respect for Law Enforcement Working Group should evaluate the Department of Justice’s abdication of its responsibility for ensuring accountability of law enforcement agencies for systemic civil rights violations,” said Gupta in her submitted testimony.
“We urge the Commission to exercise its oversight powers accordingly and take this opportunity to consider our recommendations to review the overarching criminal justice systems comprehensively,” Gupta states. “We also urge members of this Commission to end mass incarceration. By working together, communities and police departments can articulate a vision for a new era of policing that respects the dignity and humanity of all people — and can ultimately ensure that all people, of all backgrounds, are truly safe in America.”
In her testimony, available here, Gupta outlined specific recommendations this Commission should take, including:
- Addressing the transparency of this very Commission, law enforcement accountability, racial injustice across our justice system, prosecutorial and sentencing reform and lastly, public health concerns in correctional facilities related to COVID-19.
- Holding law enforcement agencies accountable, acknowledge and address the current landscape of racism in our justice system, and recommend bold solutions to end the nation’s mass incarceration rate that has plagued our country’s health and safety.
- Acknowledging the impact that pretrial detention has on the criminal legal system and address ways to improve it as it is a key aspect of justice reform.
- Improving prosecutorial reform.
- Eliminating mandatory minimums and supporting overall sentencing reform.
- Immediately release as many people as possible, especially the most vulnerable, from prisons and pre-trial detention and increase testing and provide adequate health care and communications for all people who remain in custody. Incentive states to drastically reduce their jail and prison populations and law enforcement to reduce arrests and end jail bookings.
The following groups also submitted written testimony:
- American Civil Liberties Union
- Brennan Center for Justice
- Lambda Legal
- National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
- Vera Institute of Justice
The Leadership Conference and more than 450 other civil rights organizations recently called on congressional leadership to swiftly begin to rectify the legacy of white supremacy and anti-Black racism that has led to police violence with impunity against Black people across our country.
The Leadership Conference Education Fund, sister organization to The Leadership Conference, previously launched the New Era of Public Safety initiative featuring tools to increase trust, fairness, justice, and mutual respect between police departments and the communities they serve. The report and toolkit offer recommendations and advocacy tools for communities and police departments to co-create public safety and implement 21st century policing practices.
In 2019, The Leadership Conference launched a Vision for Justice platform that outlines our approach to redefining public safety. In that platform, we called for a holistic reimagining of public safety, one that shifts resources away from criminalization and policing, toward investments in programs and services that create healthy, inclusive, and safe communities. That platform calls on us to adopt a transformative vision for how we evaluate and determine public safety priorities, while also ending mass incarceration, criminalization, and over-policing.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 220 national organizations to promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States. The Leadership Conference works toward an America as good as its ideals. For more information on The Leadership Conference and its member organizations, visit www.civilrights.org.
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