Plan seeks to reduce racial disparities in Tennessee courts

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Supreme Court has released a plan to reduce racial disparities in the state's judicial system.

The court’s Access to Justice Commission released a two-year plan Thursday to reduce discrimination and racial disparities, WPLN reported.

The commission has been around since 2009 to support underprivileged Tennesseans in the court system, but shifted focus last month to address racism “head on.”

“Events over the last few months have highlighted the need for dialogue on racism that leads to meaningful change,” Commission Chair William Coley said in a press release. “The commission’s vision is to provide collaborative leadership to create solutions and resources to ensure access to justice for all.”

Outcry over the May death of a Black man, George Floyd, in police custody in Minnesota sparked a national reckoning over racial injustice and police brutality.

There need to be honest conversations about biases that could be shaping disproportionate outcomes, officials said.

A 2016 Sentencing Project study found that Black residents in Tennessee are incarcerated at nearly four times the rate of their white peers and a 2019 Sycamore Institute report found that 40% of prisoners are Black.

“Education on how implicit bias impacts decision-making among all players in the judicial system is an important first step in addressing racial an ethnic fairness,” commission member Sean Hunt said.

Beginning this fall, the court plans to host regular race-related virtual training sessions and the commission plans to hold virtual town halls and a speaker series.