U.S. Criminal Justice System and Racial Inequities

Each year, the Goldfarb Center chooses an annual public policy theme that informs and shapes our choices for speakers and events. The theme is the focal point for the Goldfarb Freedom of Expression Policy Symposium held in the spring which offers a $2,000 prize for the best public policy student proposal related to the theme. 

The theme for the academic year 2020-2021 is the U.S. Criminal Justice System and Racial Inequities. The murder of George Floyd and the national protests it sparked was a stark reminder that American citizens experience justice in vastly different ways based on the color of their skin. 

The Goldfarb Center has a responsibility to be a leader in this area to help inform the Colby community about how the criminal justice system has exacerbated disparity between races. The theme is not meant to focus only on police reform, but to more broadly include other criminal justice issues such as mass incarceration.

This page serves as an information hub including regularly updated links to news articles, scholarly sources, films, books, and Goldfarb-sponsored talks to help educate and inform students who plan to participate in the spring policy competition.

In April, the center hosted the annual Freedom of Expression Policy Symposium. The top prize went to Ester Kim ’21 for her work on Policing in the US: Ensuring Equitable Involvement and Citizen Participation, second place went to Alice O’Neill ’23 and Halle Carroll ’23 who teamed up to focus on Anti-Capitalist Justice: Divesting from the Prison-Industrial Complex, and third place was awarded to Connor Flotten ’21 for his compelling thoughts on Ending the War on Drugs: Decriminalization and Racial Justice.

Here is a list of all of the semi-finalists:

Policing in the US: Ensuring Equitable Involvement and Citizen Participation – Esther Kim ’21

Restorative Justice as an Alternative to Zero Tolerance Policies – Jordan Hearst ’24

Anti-Capitalist Justice: Divesting from the Prison-Industrial Complex – Alice O’Neill ’23, Halle Carroll ’23

Ending the War on Drugs: Decriminalization and Racial Justice – Connor Flotten ’21

Marijuana Legalization’s Role in Advancing Racial Justice – Josh Brause ’23, Jake Nash ’21, Tom Cummins ’21   

 Dismantle Predictive Policing Tools: A Pioneer to End Racial Profiling – Erica Lee ’24 

Annual Theme Events

Goldfarb Center Freedom of Expression Policy Symposium​

April 26, 2021
Check out the Goldfarb Center’s live event recording to watch student semi-finalists present their policy proposals on how to reform the U.S. criminal justice system to achieve racial justice. Topics ranged from marijuana decriminalization to the prison-industrial complex to predictive policing tools and more. The top three winners are announced at the end of the event. The winners were decided by a faculty panel, including Professors Christel Kesler, Adam Howard, and Nadia El-Shaarawi. In addition, the Goldfarb Center’s annual theme for 2021-2022 was announced, as well as information about upcoming elections to join the Goldfarb Student Executive Board.

Procedural Justice in Policing: The Case of Stockton, California

April 13, 2021
Join us for a virtual lecture by Charles A. Dana Professor of Sociology Neil Gross on criminal justice reform, focused on the potential and limitations of the procedural justice model. Procedural justice is the idea that police, prosecutors, courts, and other representatives of the state should do everything in their power to ensure that the procedures they are following are fair and impartial, and to demonstrate that fairness at every turn. He will share his research in progress on what procedural justice has meant for the police department in Stockton, a city of 310,000 in California’s Central Valley. Although procedural justice reforms have been far from a panacea, there is evidence to suggest that they have helped bring meaningful change to the Stockton police department, and may have laid the groundwork for still more meaningful change yet to come.
Procedural Justice in Policing
Wrongly Convicted: A Story of Injustice

Wrongly Convicted: A Story of Injustice

April 7, 2021

On April 7, the Goldfarb Center hosted a powerful conversation between Executive Director Kimberly Flowers, Student Executive Board member Halle Carroll, and Anthony Ray Hinton, an author, advocate, and speaker who found his voice after being convicted for a crime he didn’t commit. He served as Alabama’s longest serving death row prisoner in history. For over an hour, Mr. Hinton exposed the realities of a prejudiced criminal legal system in Alabama, sharing intimate memories of his family and life. The day he got arrested, he remembered, he was mowing the grass for his beloved mother. When two police officers arrived in his front yard with a warrant for his arrest, Hinton remembers pleading with them to tell his mother what was happening. That day, the officers informed Hinton of a hard truth, that even if he was innocent, which Hinton had told them multiple times, it did not matter. First, he was facing a white judge, jury, prosecutor, and victim. And, they said, even if it was not him, he should “take the rap for one of his homeboys.” It was clear to Mr. Hinton that in his case, all he was guilty of was being black in America, and that fact would be and was enough to convict him. 

When Halle asked how to communicate the injustice of the legal system in America, Mr. Hinton suggested reading his own case. Indeed, Mr. Hinton’s struggle to get a fair trial with adequate legal representation proves his attorney, Bryan Stevenson, right when he maintained that, “our criminal justice system treats you better if you are rich and guilty than if you are poor and innocent.” If you would like to watch this powerful speaker again, you can visit the Goldfarb Website and YouTube channel, or read his book, The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row (2018).

A Conversation with Mr. Jeffery Robinson: The Role of Race in the Criminal Injustice System

A renowned lawyer who has been fighting for justice for almost 40 years, Jeffery Robinson is the deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) national office and director of the ACLU’s Trone Center for Justice and Equality, which houses the organization’s work on criminal and racial justice issues. He is a dynamic, sought-after speaker on the role of race in the criminal justice system and a nationally recognized trial attorney, having tried over 200 criminal cases to verdict.

Join the Goldfarb Center for another event to unpack and debate issues on criminal justice and racial inequities, which is the Center’s public policy theme of the year.

It will be moderated by Goldfarb Center Executive Director Kimberly Flowers, Grace Hillis ’24 from the Goldfarb Student Executive Board, and Emmanuel Sogunle ’21 from the Student Government Association. We will be taking live questions from the audience, so come prepared with questions.

This virtual event is public and all are welcomed to join.

A Conversation with Congressman Hank Johnson: The U.S. Criminal Justice System & Racial Inequities

October 28, 2020

A renowned lawyer who has been fighting for justice for almost 40 years, Jeffery Robinson is the deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) national office and director of the ACLU’s Trone Center for Justice and Equality, which houses the organization’s work on criminal and racial justice issues. He is a dynamic, sought-after speaker on the role of race in the criminal justice system and a nationally recognized trial attorney, having tried over 200 criminal cases to verdict.

Check out the recorded event to unpack the issues on criminal justice and racial inequities, which is the Center’s public policy theme of the year.


It was moderated by Goldfarb Center Executive Director Kimberly Flowers, Grace Hillis ’24 from the Goldfarb Student Executive Board, and Emmanuel Sogunle ’21 from the Student Government Association. 

Relevant News

April 7, 2021  – NPR

Derek Chauvin Trial Breaks ‘Blue Wall Of Silence,’ But Will It Transform Policing?

This NPR news article discusses the impact of the testimony by Derek Chauvin’s colleagues in the police department during his murder trial. Their willingness to criticize the actions of Chauvin marks a potential transition in how the police in America react to violence while on duty. Some experts that NPR interviewed, however, caution against taking this trial as a standard for policing across the country.

READ FULL ARTICLE

April 7, 2021  – NPR

Policing in America

This Throughline episode follows the often-tragic saga of policing in America with regard to black citizens. For over an hour, the podcast details the origins of policing and why it has had an undue impact on communities of color.

READ FULL ARTICLE

April 3, 2021  – NBC News

Here’s what was revealed in the first week of the Derek Chauvin trial

After the first week of former-Officer Derek Chauvin’s murder trial, NBC news offers a breif recap of the proceedings. They discuss the use of “spark of life” testimony by the prosecution, the testimony of Chauvin’s former bosses, and some disagreements over the specifics of some evidence presented by the prosecution. The article gives a good background to all of the information being presented in the Minneapolis courtroom. 

READ FULL ARTICLE

February 22, 2021  – The Wall Street Journal
Garland Looks for Justice Department to Tackle Domestic Extremism

Judge Merrick Garland, President Biden’s pick for attorney general, said in his Senate Judiciary Committee meeting that he would pursue strong enforcement of civil-rights laws. He acknowledged the ongoing discrimination of communities of color in housing, education, employment, and the criminal justice system as a whole. As the top law-enforcement officer of the United States, the attorney general could set a new precedent for criminal justice in America during his tenure.

READ FULL ARTICLE

February 16, 2021  – The New York Times
Opinion: The New Debt Prisons

This article discusses how the police are funded in America, an especially pertinent topic following a summer of calls to defund the institution. While former felons in Florida garnered national attention during the 2020 election season because their court fees blocked their right to vote, this article points out that the problem extends past felony disenfranchisement. The article also details the rise in court fees across the country, and emphasizes the disproportionate impact it has on black and brown families in the nation.

READ FULL ARTICLE

Film

February 15, 2021 – Kanopy

Lindy Lou, Juror Number 2

This documentary follows a religious southern woman who served on the jury that voted to convict a man and sentenced him to death more than 20 years ago. Since then, she had been racked with guilt over her decision. In order to understand her confusion, she tracks down other members of the jury across Mississippi to ask their opinion on the ruling. A unique look into capital punishment, this film can offer insight on the impact of the death penalty. Colby Students can watch on Kanopy with their Colby login

VIEW FILM

September 30, 2020 – National Public Radio

13th – A Netflix original documentary

Sarah Collins Rudolph was 12 years old when the explosion of a bomb, planted by the Ku Klux Klan, ripped through the basement of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963

VIEW FILM

Scholarly Sources

The police officer’s dilemma: Using ethnicity to disambiguate potentially threatening individuals.

A study that tests the “shoot/don’t shoot” response by white and black police officers when faced with white or black assailants holding unidentifiable objects. Available for free download.
DOWNLOAD HERE

American Civil Liberties Union Racial Justice Program

Has many links and scholarly resources that are constantly updated
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Race, the War on Drugs, and the Collateral Consequences of Criminal Conviction

Link to download Gabriel J. Chin’s paper, Race, the War on Drugs, and the Collateral Consequences of Criminal Conviction
LEARN MORE