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Reaching Out to the Communities We Serve
New Diversity and Inclusion Initiative Seeks to Engage the Public
DECEMBER 8, 2022—The New Hampshire Judicial Branch, supported by a broad range of community leaders, today launched a long term Diversity and Inclusion initiative to identify and eliminate cultural biases within the court system to ensure that all people seeking access to justice are treated fairly, equally and with respect.
“The New Hampshire Constitution explicitly states ‘Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by this state on account of race, creed, color, sex or national origin’’’ said Superior Court Judge David Ruoff, who co-chairs the court’s Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee with Circuit Court Judge Susan Carbon. “It is an honor for all of us to be part of this important effort to uncover and correct any barriers that interfere with the court system’s ability to meet this fundamental obligation,” Ruoff said.
The new initiative was unveiled at a gathering of judges, court staff and representatives of New Hampshire’s diverse communities held at the Manchester Community Resource Center, a non-profit organization which for two decades has provided needed services to low and moderate incomes residents. The project will include widespread community outreach and in-person meetings to engage court users in a dialogue about their experiences.
“We are going into the community to begin a conversation, to listen and to learn,” Chief Justice Gordon J. MacDonald said. “We take this step with humility because we know we have a lot to learn,” the Chief Justice said.
The Judicial Branch Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan, developed over the past year, calls for collection of data from the court system that will provide baselines for plans to have the workplace “better reflect the communities we serve.” The plan also includes an analysis of staff and judicial officers' understanding of unconscious bias and their sensitivity to factors such as race, gender, disabilities, socio-economic conditions, and limited English proficiency among users of the court system. The plan includes a requirement that all judges and staff will participate in training about biases and their impact with the goal “to generate a culture of understanding and acceptance.”
An advisory board of community members will also actively participate in providing candid feedback to the initiative’s steering committee.
“Community engagement and transparency are crucial to our success if we are to realize true reform and lasting change,” said Judge Carbon, “That's why a robust public outreach effort and the engagement of an advisory board are essential components of the strategic plan. Of all the work that lies ahead, I most look forward to meeting with people around the state to learn how we can better serve the public,” she said.
New Hampshire now joins with state courts nationwide that have recognized that identifying cultural biases and making changes in the workplace are essential to building trust and confidence in the justice system. The effort has been supported by the National Center for State Courts, in Williamsburg, VA., the nation’s leading resource for state court planning, policy and innovation.
James T. McKim Jr. the president of the Manchester chapter of the NAACP and a member of the advisory board, said the New Hampshire initiative is “an opportunity we have not had before” to engage people in a discussion about the court system and “how can we make it better for people of color.”
“Having been part of the effort, I know the people involved are sincere and want to improve the system” McKim said, “and they need as much as we can give them to improve it.”
In addition to self-examination and training within the court system, the Initiative’s goals include:
- Increase workforce diversity and collaborate with the New Hampshire Bar and educational institutions to expand and diversify the pipeline of candidates pursuing the legal profession
- Engage in public outreach to solicit feedback from court users
- Improve external and internal communication on the Judicial Branch effort to increase cultural awareness