New program seeks to address bias and racism in the state's court system
Volunteers are needed for a new initiative to address implicit bias and systemic racism in courtrooms. The Judicial Observation Project trains community members to observe judges in court proceedings.
Participants receive in-depth training in court procedures and implicit bias to give feedback to participating judges.
At a press conference, Judge Bill Taylor said, "The goal of the project is to improve trust between the courts and the community."
Rochester City Court Judge Melissa Barret said community members want to help.
"They're just grateful for the opportunity to serve," Barret said. "At the same time, we do recognize that there are areas of challenge that need to be addressed. And that is what this project is all about."
An initial proposal for the program was submitted to the New York 7th judicial district in December of 2020 by members of the United Christian Leadership Ministry.
"We talk about empowering the community. This does empower the community in the courtroom," said Lewis Stewart, president of the association. Lewis said the United Christian Ministry plans to replicate the project throughout the state court system.
Over the past year, a committee developed a pilot, which rolled out its second phase in January. Five judges in the local district volunteered to have more than 60 proceedings observed by volunteers.
Jeffrey Freeman, a senior analyst with Common Ground Health, is one of 14 volunteer observers. He says he had a specific view of the law growing up and wanted to do his part in changing it.
"I wanted to participate because I want to be part of the solution," Freeman said.
The volunteers were required to create observation summaries that will be reviewed with the judges during an upcoming feedback session in April.
Interested volunteers for the next phase must contact firstname.lastname@example.org.