On Tuesday, I, along with Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (MI-14), introduced the Justice Integrity Act, which will examine the causes of racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system and to develop proposals for reducing or eliminating unjustified disparities where found. The Act establishes a five-year pilot program in ten United States districts.

Numerous studies conducted over the past several years have documented racial disparities at many stages of the criminal justice system, from initial law enforcement contact with a suspect to the percentage of racial and ethnic minorities in prison. These disparities have engendered a crisis of public trust in the integrity of the criminal justice system and fuel community perceptions of bias in the criminal justice system.  As a result, communities become reluctant to report crimes or cooperate with police and prosecutors.  The Justice Integrity Act aims to get to the root of cause for racial disparities in the criminal justice system and will help to create programs and policies that will lessen these impacts.

Under the program, an advisory group is established in each selected district.  This advisory group would be headed by the U.S. Attorney for that district and consist of federal and state prosecutors and defenders, private defense counsel, judges, correctional officers, victims’ rights representatives, civil rights organizations, business representatives, and faith-based organizations.  The U.S. Attorney will consider the advisory groups’ recommendations, adopt a plan, and submit a report to the Attorney General.  My bill requires the Attorney General to submit a comprehensive report to Congress at the end of the pilot program, outlining the results from all ten districts and recommending best practices.

The Justice Integrity Act has been endorsed by the American Bar Association, the Sentencing Project, the Brennan Center for Justice, the National Black Prosecutors Association, the United Methodist Church, the National Criminal Justice Association, the NAACP, and The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Drug Policy Alliance and others.

The 9th District of Tennessee is majority African-American, and I’ve long heard from my constituents about the need to overhaul the criminal justice system in order to better serve our community.  This bill is an important first step.  I’m encouraged by Attorney General Eric Holder’s commitment to this cause, and I expect that the Justice Integrity Act will find wide support in the 111th Congress.