Vera Institute of Justice | Securing Equal Justice

Securing Equal Justice

America is rapidly evolving into a majority-minority country with a growing share of immigrants—and that trend only captures the racial and ethnic changes taking place. America is also aging and becoming more openly diverse in terms of gender expression and sexual orientation. These and other shifts are co-occurring alongside persistent systemic racism and increasingly visible nativism, more Americans than ever living in concentrated poverty, and justice systems nationwide that do not have the trust of communities they serve.

The changing face of America challenges us to deepen our commitment to delivering on the promise of equal treatment enshrined in the Constitution. It may require a revolution in practice in some areas, but we can make our justice systems fair, accessible to all, and worthy of people’s trust.

That begins with local law enforcement agencies that serve on the frontlines of the criminal justice system. Policing in America is at a perilous crossroads. The ranks of police officers across the nation are filled with dedicated men and women who want to serve and support communities, but decades of over-policing; egregious, highly visible examples of police misconduct; the seemingly indelible stain of racism; and lack of accountability undermine their efforts and public confidence.

We’re working nationally to encourage policing that is responsive to the needs of communities. Law enforcement must be accountable to the communities that they have sworn to serve and protect. This work includes a project to expand the widely used police performance management tool—Compstat—to hold police managers accountable for more than just reducing crime and disorder. Vera’s Compstat 2.0 initiative is updating this management tool to also measure and track community satisfaction with police service, residents’ fear of crime, police officer use of force, and other factors that are aligned with societal expectations of democratic policing.

The path to equal justice requires reckoning with practices that are unfair and failing. For roughly a decade, we worked to address institutional and implicit biases that led blacks and Latinos to be prosecuted more harshly than whites arrested for the same crimes, providing lessons as the country takes a closer look at how prosecutors drive mass incarceration. We are working to break cycles of violence in poor communities by joining young men of color who have hurt as well as been harmed in a process that promotes healing and accountability far better than traditional punishment.

Justice is often out of reach for the most vulnerable members of society, such as survivors of violence and sexual abuse—domestic and otherwise—that until recently had nowhere to turn for help: People with disabilities, those who are Deaf or hard-of-hearing, LGBTQ victims, and incarcerated people. Our work on behalf of Deaf and hard-of-hearing people is poised to expand. We want to make the entirety of the justice system more accessible to them. And in a country where already one in seven Americans is 65 or older, the justice system needs innovations to protect them from harm. Our nonprofit legal guardianship program for elderly people and people with disabilities operates in New York City and is a model nationally.

The concept of liberty and justice for all is not tied to citizenship. From the newest Americans to noncitizens who have deep roots in this country, immigrants to America also deserve justice. They should have equal access to the protections of law enforcement, a duty that often requires police to overcome language barriers in order to serve and protect people who can be especially vulnerable. And our commitment to fairness requires due process when someone is facing the possibility of being deported. In addition to launching the first-ever publicly supported defender program for poor detained immigrants facing deportation, our work includes providing legal assistance and pro bono representation to children who bravely journey to America alone and immigrants who have a mental illness.

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