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.

Annual Theme Events

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.

Annual Theme Events

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

Representative Hank Johnson of Georgia’s fourth district, now in his seventh term in the U.S. House of Representatives, is a member of the House Judiciary Committee and the Secretary of the Congressional Black Caucus. As the author of the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act, a part of the Congressional Black Caucus’s response to police and vigilante violence against African Americans across the country, he was a perfect speaker for this year’s annual theme, U.S. Criminal Justice System and Racial Inequities.

The discussion was opened by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor of Sociology and African-American Studies Dr. Cheryl Townsend Gilkes and moderated by Goldfarb Center Executive Director Kimberly Flowers, Halle Carroll ’23, and Reagan Dennis ’23. The group discussed the presidential candidates’ stances on criminal justice reform, the War on Drugs, mass incarceration, and a number of other pertinent subjects regarding criminal justice.

Check out the recorded video below!

Relevant News

November 2, 2020 – New York Times

Trump vs. Biden on Policing, Crime, and Guns

This piece is a very brief overview of the two presidential candidates and their stances on police funding, Black Lives Matter, fighting crime, prison reform, gun control, and the death penalty. It offers single sentence summaries for complex issues, but indicates the rising importance of criminal justice reform in America’s politics.


November 2, 2020 – KQED

Proposition 20: Law and Order Proponents Soften Rhetoric to Pick Up Votes

This article discusses Proposition 20 that is on the California ballot for this year’s elections that would increase the severity of penalties for people convicted of some theft and fraud crimes. It also cites previous measures that have passed in California, such as the 1994 three strikes law, and contextualizes the changing political appetite for “law and order” in the state.


October 31, 2020 – The LA Times

With push for progressive D.A.s, elected prosecutors feel the pressure of a changing profession

Following a contentious campaign for district attorney that focused on toughness on crime, a summer of national protests against police brutality might have changed the perspective on the role of district attorneys. Prosecutors have typically been allies of local law enforcement, but recently may need to step more firmly into the role of overseers. The article also discusses other races in America that are evidence of this new role as well.


October 31, 2020 – The Wall Street Journal

Ex-Inmates Struggle in a Banking System Not Made for Them

This article discusses the financial implications of incarceration, emphasizing the outsized impact it has on people of color. Difficulties with securing loans, opening a bank account, or even finding someone willing to hire an ex-con leads to a number of complications in day-to-day life, and even impacts one’s ability to vote.


October 28, 2020 – The Marshall Project

7 States Where Voters Could Change the Future of Criminal Justice

This article details the state-level ballot initiatives across the country that pertain to criminal justice, whether it is due to state prison populations, re-enfranchising voters with felony records, or changing the oversight process of police departments. The states included are California, Kentucky, Michigan, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Utah, and Oregon, indicating the wide reach of Criminal Justice reform during this election cycle.



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.


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.

American Civil Liberties Union Racial Justice Program

Has many links and scholarly resources that are constantly updated

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