Criminal Justice System partners united to improve how the system operates in Delaware.

Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Leo E. Strine Jr., Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn, Delaware Office of Defense Services Chief Defender Brendan O’Neill and other Delaware criminal justice leaders welcomed participants in the criminal justice system to discuss ways to improve the overall fairness and efficiency of the criminal justice system.

The Criminal Justice Forum was held Oct. 26 at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino.

Over 10 organizations were represented including judicial officers, the Delaware Attorney General’s Office, the Office of Defense Services, the Division of Youth Rehabilitative Services, the Delaware Department of Correction and law enforcement officials from the Delaware Police Chiefs’ Council, the Delaware State Police, the Delaware Capitol Police, the New Castle County Police Department, the Wilmington Police Department and the Fraternal Order of Police.

The forum was developed as a response to key recommendations for statewide implicit bias training issued by criminal justice experts from the Equal Justice Institute and the University of Pennsylvania’s Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice during a series of public hearings on criminal justice reform held last fall by the Delaware Access to Justice Commission’s Committee on Fairness in the Criminal Justice System. The implicit bias training targets unconscious bias and stereotypes that could impact the administration of justice.

The Fairness Committee, comprising a cross-section of the Delaware Bar, community and business leaders, academia and members of the public, is charged with examining the causes of racial disparities in our state’s system of criminal justice and with trying to find ways to make the criminal justice system more equitable and improve public safety. Discussions over the past year have brought stakeholders in the Delaware criminal justice system together and resulted in broad agreement that joint training sessions would be beneficial so that all system partners would be operating from the same guidelines and have a shared understanding.

“I believe the Criminal Justice Forum is headed in the proper direction for positive change and fairness in our Criminal Justice System,” said New Castle County Police Chief Col. Elmer Setting.

Professor Rachel Godsil, of Seton Hall University School of Law, started the forum with a presentation of the social science research that shows how implicit bias and stereotyping can affect both evaluative judgment and behavioral dynamics. Implicit bias is not racism as it is commonly understood, but an unconscious attitude or association with stereotypes linked with particular groups. Godsil also discussed the practices that have been shown to reduce and override that bias and replace it with objective decision-making. Godsil said that neither she nor her colleagues had heard of a criminal justice system anywhere else in the nation coming together as one to learn about implicit bias the way Delaware had done at the Criminal Justice Forum.

The second half of the Criminal Justice Forum focused on courtroom procedures. Prosecutors, defense attorneys and members of the bench met together to hold panel discussions and mock demonstrations on opening statements, closing arguments and evidence presentation. The sessions also provided opportunities for participants to ask questions of criminal justice experts and veteran members of the Delaware Bar who sat on the panels.

Going forward, the Delaware Judiciary is hoping to continue to explore opportunities to work together with partners to develop high-quality training and provide opportunities for all elements of the system to work together to improve criminal justice for the citizens of Delaware.