BOSTON (CBS) – It looks like a Zoom meeting but it’s called a court listening session. Judge Shannon Frison said it is relatively new and began as a way to address some of the angst folks are feeling.
The pandemic has forced the sessions online, but the idea is the same, to give the community an open forum to ask judges questions and learn more about the court process. At the same time judges hear the community’s concerns.
The focus of one meeting was racial inequality. Judge Frison told WBZ, “It is present everywhere including the court system.”
Last summer Judge Frison posted on Facebook her own frustration, telling the I-Team, implicit bias is systemic. “We as Americans have that bias, against darker skin against African features,” Frison said.
That bias was found in a four-year Harvard Law School study. Data showed that Massachusetts imprisons Black people at a rate 7.9 times that of white people a Latino people at 4.9 times that of whites. And the bail statistics aren’t much better, showing Black and brown people are subjected to bail more often and higher amounts.
Marybeth Campbell is with the Worcester Community Action Council. Her organization sees the bias first hand in the court system. The group helped sponsor the recent listening session and called it a good first step but said more needs to be done. “The proof is in the action that you take in really solidly looking at policies, procedures and perceptions and how we recognize and acknowledge deficiencies in system,” Campbell said.
The judge agrees but said the numbers don’t tell the whole story. “Some things there are no numbers for you to say how you feel when you come into a courtroom and no one looks like you,” Frison said. “I don’t have a number I can give you for that.”
To find a listening session in your area- check with your local court.