Justice Integrity Act of 2009 Introduced

February 26, 2009

For Immediate Release:

Contact: Jeanine Plant-Chirlin, 212-998-6289

Legislation speaks to persistent racial and ethnic disparities within the federal criminal justice system. 

Washington, D.C. – Today, Senators Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) and Arlen Spector (R-PA) introduced critical legislation that speaks to persistent racial and ethnic disparities within the federal criminal justice system. Inspired in part by a 2007 Brennan Center and the National Institute for Law and Equity report, the Justice Integrity Act (JIA) of 2008 seeks to ensure equal treatment for all citizens involved in the criminal process.

Originally introduced by then-Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), the JIA is intended to restore public confidence in the fair and equitable application of justice. The proposed legislation grew, in part, out of a report released by the Brennan Center and the National Institute for Law and Equity, Prosecutorial Discretion and Racial Disparities in Federal Sentencing: Some Views of Former U.S. Attorneys, which identified ways for U.S. Attorneys' to address racial disparities in sentencing and to mitigate the effects on communities that are disproportionately impacted by high rates of incarceration.

"The Justice Integrity Act provides a non-partisan, objective mechanism through which law enforcement officials can take a close look at whether we are achieving the goal of ensuring fair and equal treatment for all citizens that find themselves involved with our criminal justice system—which is the promise of our democracy," says Nicole Austin-Hillery, Director and Counsel of the Brennan Center's Washington, D.C. office.

The JIA would create a pilot program that would be implemented by United States Attorneys in ten federal districts, who with the assistance of "advisory committees" comprised of prosecutors and defenders, judges and correctional officers, among others, would be charged with the responsibility to collect and examine data illuminating racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice policies within the selected districts. The advisory committees would also study ways to reduce unwarranted disparities and make recommendations as to how to ensure fairness in the criminal justice system.

Recognizing that African Americans and other racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately arrested and incarcerated across a range of offenses, Melanca Clark, counsel in the Brennan Center's Justice Program, stated: "We've become desensitized to the over-involvement of black and brown men in the criminal justice system, and the related human cost to individuals, families and communities. The JIA is a critical step towards real, color-blind, Justice."

The advisory committees will offer recommendations to inform the creation of plans that will help ensure that law enforcement priorities and initiatives, charging and plea bargaining decisions, and sentencing recommendations are not influenced by racial or ethnic stereotyping, and that facially neutral laws or policies are applied without actual or unconscious bias.

The House version of the bill, H.R. 1412, was introduced by Representatives Steve Cohen (D-TN) and John Conyers (D-MI) on March 10, 2009. 

For more information or to arrange an interview with Nicole Austin-Hillery or Melanca Clark, please contact Jeanine Plant-Chirlin at 212-998-6289 or at Jeanine.plant-chirlin@nyu.edu.