Facilitating Change: NCCJ’s role in an important step toward racial equity in North Carolina’s criminal justice system
October 9, 2021
Tags: Criminal Justice, Equity, Program, Racial Equity, Representation,
Last month (on September 7), Governor Roy Cooper signed a comprehensive criminal justice reform package (Senate Bill 300) into law.
The bill included several key provisions recommended by the Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice (TREC) after the group convened for an extensive series of NCCJ-facilitated meetings between June and December 2020.
Led by Attorney General Josh Stein and NC Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls, the TREC consists of 24 members from a wide range of backgrounds and perspectives. The Task Force was tasked with identifying policies and practices that disproportionately affect communities of color.
Achieving bipartisan support for key first steps
Notably, the legislation received bipartisan support and support from groups with opposing views, such as law enforcement and criminal justice reform organizations.
As stated in a press release issued by Cooper’s office,
“Senate Bill 300 makes important changes to improve policing and criminal justice in North Carolina, as recommended by TREC, including:
- Promotes recruitment of officers with diverse backgrounds and experiences and improves training so that officers are better equipped to be successful
- Requires early intervention mechanisms to identify and correct officers who use excessive force or other misconduct
- Furthers independent investigations of police-involved shootings
- Limits local laws that criminalize poverty
- Requires a first appearance in court within 72 hours of a person being arrested.”
Karen Dyer and NCCJ’s Michael Robinson facilitated the TREC meetings, putting NCCJ’s approach to bridging opposing viewpoints and convening respectful conversations to drive action on a statewide scale.
Now, Michael and Karen are reflecting on their work guiding the Task Force’s diverse members toward finding common ground as they developed a set of recommendations to ensure racial equity in North Carolina’s criminal justice system.
“As facilitators,” says Michael, “our primary role was meeting management and being accountability partners. We provided structure to consensus-building processes where needed, as well as being the eyes and ears for Task Force members, Co-chairs Earls and Stein and their support team, to ensure that all voices and perspectives were heard. We helped all parties navigate intense and complex work over the 6 months we met with the Task Force.”
“I was extremely honored to have the opportunity to work with the 25 members of the Task Force,” says Karen Dyer.
“Supporting these highly committed individuals, many of whom have dedicated their lives, careers, and reputations to public service ensuring justice for all North Carolina citizens, was not only meaningful but profoundly significant.”
Sharing expertise – and learning new skills and perspectives
In addition to their expertise as facilitators of difficult conversations, Michael and Karen were each able to draw on their own extensive knowledge of racial equity topics to help the Task Force members reach common ground.
Karen explains, “I believe that our role evolved into assisting the members in navigating complexities surrounding such topics as:
- Policing policies and practices (e.g., use of force; appropriate use of school resource officers);
- Law enforcement management (e.g., recruiting, retaining, training, a diverse and racially equitable workforce;
- Court-based interventions to end discriminatory criminalization (e.g., pre-trail release and bail practices; juvenile justice system issues);
- Advancing racial justice in trials and post-conviction (e.g., use and impact of fines and fees; sentencing disparities).”
Facilitating the Task Force meetings was also a learning experience for Michael and Karen.
Karen says, “I learned so much about the history, current and past practices, and the impact of structural racism on our laws and institutions. What I experienced was an overwhelming commitment on the part of individuals from various backgrounds and perspectives to foster a more fair and just future for North Carolinians. I’m so grateful and appreciative to have been a part of such important work that continues to manifest making a difference.”
Michael agrees: “It was an honor to be a part of such a large-scale effort to bring about much needed equity in our criminal justice system. Seeing this legislation come to fruition because of the hard work of task force members, and knowing that we had even a small part in making that happen, is gratifying.”
NCCJ is proud of the work the Task Force has accomplished and grateful to see some of their recommendations go into effect with the passage of Senate Bill 300. We are grateful for the opportunity to help guide these critical conversations, and hopeful that this legislation will be the first step of many to come as we collectively work toward greater racial equity and accountability within our criminal justice system.