MaryAnn Spoto, The Star-Ledger, September 25, 2011
New Jersey courts have made great strides in eliminating racial bias in recent years, but more guidance is still needed to help minorities navigate the complex legal system, a report to the judiciary says.
However, it also says reducing the length of time minority youths remain in detention while awaiting their day in court is still a struggle in a legal system that now has all white faces at the top rung of the ladder–the Supreme Court.
There are more black and Hispanic judges on the bench compared with 20 years ago, though the numbers have slipped in recent years. Of the 418 judges on the Supreme, Superior and Tax courts as of Nov. 10, 2010, 14 percent were minorities.
These were some of the findings in a study conducted every two years by the Supreme Court’s Committee on Minority Concerns.
The report noted minority youths were detained nearly twice as long as whites before their cases were heard, according to information compiled for 2008, the latest year it was available. For minorities, the average stay was 33.5 days, compared with 18.2 days for white suspects.
Superior Court Judge Susan Maven, chairwoman of the committee, said in the report that the courts needed to focus their efforts on the entire juvenile justice system, in which minorities account for a disproportionate number of people behind bars and not taking part in alternative programs.
Black youths who account for 16.1 percent of the juvenile population composed 63.6 percent of those being detained.
The report says judges should seek alternatives to detention for juveniles. Fisher said she suspected the youths often found themselves entangled in the legal system because of a lack of money, education and access to attorneys.