The Tennessee Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission this week released its 2020 Strategic Plan, including ways of addressing racism in the justice system.

The strategic plan specifies actions the commission will take to meet the goals over the next two years and how it will measure its successes and impact.

“Recent events in Tennessee and across the country illustrate that racism exists in society and systems. In its 2020 Strategic Plan, the Commission explores its role in addressing racism in the justice system,” a news release said.

Since the Commission was created in 2009, it has worked to provide equal access to the court system to all underprivileged Tennesseans.

“Going forward, the commission will refocus its efforts and address issues of racism and disparate impact on racial and ethnic minorities head-on,” the news release said.

“Events over the last few months have highlighted the need for dialogue on racism that leads to meaningful change,” said William “Bill” Coley, Access to Justice Commission chairman. “The Commission’s vision is to provide collaborative leadership to create solutions and resources to ensure access to justice for all. We are committed to striving for our mission to be true for all Tennesseans, including our Black and minority communities.”

The Strategic Plan follows the Tennessee Supreme Court’s statement addressing the racism and injustice that remain a mortal threat to the lives of Black people.

“We created the Access to Justice Commission over a decade ago as part of our commitment to equal justice,” said Justice Cornelia Clark, Tennessee Supreme Court Justice and Liaison to the Commission. “The commission embodies the leadership and experience needed to steer the judicial branch’s activities to identify and eliminate barriers to racial and ethnic fairness and justice.”

The commission held a special called meeting to begin the conversation of its responsibility to bring attention to racism in the justice system and make recommendations for change.

Beverly Watts, commission member and executive director of the Tennessee Human Rights Commission, facilitated the meeting.

“The commission must convene stakeholders to discuss issues of race and policies that bring frustration. People are going to look to the Commission to continue to capture data on racial injustice and continue to push the dialogue forward,” Watts said in the release.

Initial action steps the commission plans “to undertake to identify and eliminate barriers to racial and ethnic fairness” are listed in the strategic plan.

Among them are the creation of live virtual training sessions on implicit bias, racial injustice, poverty, and related topics developed for all judicial and legal system participants.

The commission will host one large scale virtual training event each quarter beginning this fall.

“Education on how implicit bias impacts decision-making among all players in the judicial system is an important first step in addressing racial and ethnic fairness,” said Sean Hunt, Access to Justice Commission member and member of the group that steers the training events.

“The commission is eager to move forward with these virtual events bringing together all access to justice, judicial, and legal stakeholders,” Hunt said.

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