Confronting and Eliminating Systemic Racism in Trial Courts

NAPCO is committed now and over the long-term to confront and eliminate systemic racism in trial courts. Research indicates that most, if not all, U.S. organizations – including trial courts – have baked within their policies, practices, and norms, inequities that disadvantage people of color whether they are African-American, Hispanic, Asian, or other races. This insight is not an accusation that those in trial courts are all racist. It means that regardless of the intentions of those who work within the judicial system, organizational practices discriminate and cause racially unfair outcomes.

There are many facets of the problem aside from criminal justice issues, including fines, fees, jury service, civil justice, case delay, self-represented litigants, and on and on. Organizational racism will not go away through a few good conversations, a succession of implicit bias trainings, or a set of principled statements. To address it, organizational cultures – “the way we do things around here” – must change. Court leaders need to switch their thinking from “intention” to “impact.” The focus is not on intentional harm or hate that can be documented, but on collective harm that can be identified and detected by its impact on people of color. To do so, requires a deeper understanding about how to uncover and correct harmful impacts, a sustained commitment to prevent such problems from reoccurring, and an overall awareness of hidden injustices.

Many courts today are uncertain where to start, what to do, and how to make purposeful improvements. Through research, educational programs, and collaboration with other like-minded organizations, NAPCO is dedicated to help develop meaningful strategies to combat systemic racism in the justice system. This portion of our webpage will feature thoughtful articles, action plans, helpful ideas, lessons learned by court leaders, and promising approaches to tackle trial court racism hidden in plain sight. Although there may be no one “right way” to remediate systemic racism in the nation’s trial courts, there is a single, collective end-goal for all: To be as good as our promise of equality, respect, dignity, inclusion, and fairness for everyone who seeks justice.

The Look

The Look is a short film (1:43) released by Procter & Gamble designed to spark reflection and conversation on racial bias. NAPCO feels it has much to say about systemic racism, too. It highlights societal bias as experienced by many African-American men today in the United States. Its powerful and meaningful message has special significance for trial courts, as you will see in watching it.

Whose Problem Is Systemic Racism?

“Let me add my two cents. In communities of color, there has never been a high expectation that things will improve systemically.  Someone once wrote a book with the title, Why Black Folks Tend to Shout.  The premise was that the concerns of the Black community were perceived by that community to be below the notice of most white people, even most well-meaning white people.

“It’s been my experience that these conversations about race and equity, until very recently, have tended to be very one-sided.  The average white person sincerely believes that they do not harbor any thoughts that are racially biased.  They sincerely believe that whatever they achieved came about solely because of their individual intelligence, diligence, and work ethic. They bristle at the suggestion that any part of their success is the result of a privilege, based on color, that they did not earn. 

“When the conversation turns to racial inequity, they have nothing to say because they feel that they personally played no part in that inequity.  They are absolutely impervious to the construct that somehow their status as a white person has allowed them not to be bothered with even thinking about issues that people of color are required to add to their calculus every single day. Because they and their ancestors never owned slaves or were never part of the Jim Crow South, they don’t understand how any of this ‘racial inequity’ thing can have anything to
do with them. 

“They are not willing to see how they have been passive beneficiaries of policy decisions at the highest levels of government and industry that advantaged people who looked like them to the disadvantage of every other color.  To the contrary, many of them see themselves as the victims of racialized policies that were meant to, in some small measure, even the playing field.” 

–Hon. Ronald Adrine (ret.), Administrative and Presiding Judge
Cleveland Municipal Court, Cuyahoga County, Ohio

Be an Upstander in Your Court

The Massachusetts Trial Court, a national leader in promoting diversity, equity and inclusion, recently debuted a video (May 2022) in which judges and staff stand up and speak out against disrespectful actions and behavior. Running eight minutes, it is entitled: Upstander and features current and former judicial officers and court employees from all Massachusetts’ courts, including the Supreme Judicial Court, Appeals Court, and Trial Court, as well as their departments.

The Trial Court’s Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Experience produced the video in partnership with the Court’s Public Outreach Committee.  This video honors the legacy of former Chief Justice Ralph Gants who was a tireless advocate for justice in all its forms.

The term “upstander” was popularized by the education program Facing History and Ourselves. An upstander is a person who has chosen to make a difference in the world by speaking out against injustice and creating positive change. 

The Trial Court’s Upstander video is a call-to-action for all of us to stand up when we witness injustice. Being an upstander here means standing up against disrespectful words and actions when we hear or see them, because they do not promote inclusiveness in our work environment. We all have a shared responsibility to stand up anytime anyone is being treated disrespectfully.

Visit to view the original article and watch Upstander. You can also view Upstander below.

Presented by:

  • Chief Justice Jeffrey A. Locke
  • Chief Justice Paula M. Carey (ret.)
  • Court Administrator John A. Bello
  • Chief Experience & Diversity Officer John G.C. Laing Jr.

Webinars on Addressing Systemic Racism

Articles on Systemic Racism and the Courts

Justice System Partnership for Racial Equity

NAPCO is a founding member of a new criminal justice consortium composed of nonprofit, national associations dedicated to tackling systemic racism within and between criminal justice entities. These associations represent major professional state and local organizations in law enforcement, prosecution, defense, pretrial services, probation, corrections, and treatment/rehabilitation services. The Partnership was formed during the summer and fall of 2020 during nationwide protests over racial inequity following the untimely and violent deaths of Breanna Taylor (March 2020) in Louisville KY and George Floyd (May 2020) in Minneapolis MN. Membership in the Partnership is likely to expand as other associations dedicated to the betterment of the U.S. justice system join.

Mission Statement

This partnership is committed to eliminating racial inequities within the justice system.


We envision a justice system that advances equitable treatment for every individual under the law. In such a system, all individuals are treated with dignity and respect, have their voices heard and accepted, and receive unbiased treatment resulting in equitable interactions and outcomes.

Purpose Statement

The Justice System Partnership for Racial Equity is comprised of justice system leaders throughout the United States. We recognize that racial inequities exist and strive to eliminate these disparities by sharing our knowledge, skills, and influence. Our goals are to identify equitable strategies and outcomes within and across stakeholder groups, develop practical and actionable guidance, and lead transformational change to advance racial justice throughout the nation.

Partner Associations (March 2021)

2021 NAPCO Leadership Academy and Conference

A variety of educational programming regarding systemic racism was presented at NAPCO’s Fifth Annual Leadership Academy and Conference which was held virtually from Boston, Massachusetts, August 22-25.

Featured Topics

  • Plenary: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: A Court Leadership Approach
  • Plenary: The Conversation: How Seeking and Speaking the Truth about Racism
    can Radically Transform Individuals and Organizations
  • Workshop: Better Customer Service through Race and Implicit Bias Training

2022 NAPCO Leadership Academy and Conference

Three programs about the role and responsibility of trial court leaders in combating systemic racism were offered at NAPCO’s Sixth Annual Leadership Academy and Conference held in Anaheim, California, August 21-24.

Featured Topics

  • Plenary: Ways to Advance Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for Judges, Staff and
    Court Customers
  • Workshop: Pretrial Release Services in a No Bail World
  • Workshop: Sharpening Our Focus: DE&I and Racial Justice in America’s Courts