The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights briefing on Friday, March 17, to examine the Department of Justice’s enforcement efforts at the municipal level included testimony from assistant professor of sociology Sarah Shannon.
The briefing focused on urgent issues involving civil rights of all Americans: municipal practices of raising money when people come into contact with the justice system. The recent past in Ferguson, Missouri brought to light practices that can have racially discriminatory impacts, raising serious civil rights concerns regarding unequal access to justice and conflict of interest for those charged with assuring justice.
"The purpose of the briefing was to assess the Department of Justice's enforcement efforts around municipal court reforms and fines and fees in light of Ferguson," Shannon said via email. "I participated on a panel focused on research and policy recommendations. For my part, I shared some intitial findings from the multi-state, grant-funded project that I am a part of, which is led by Dr. Alexes Harris at the University of Washington. In particular, I discussed our assessment thus far that reforms are happening across the states but they face significant challenges due to the complexity of these laws, states' significant variation in these practices, lack of nationally representative data to assess the full scope and impact of fines and fees, and the diverse group of stakeholders whose interests in these policies and practices often diverge."
Expertise that can (and should) impact policy discussions is one the most important duties fulfilled by our faculty. The role of public scholarship in national policy debates is key to reform and relieves pressure from enforcement agencies and politicians while assuring the citizenry that government is moving in the right direction - toward openness, transparency, and equal justice. Great job, Dr. Shannon. We are proud of your efforts and participation on the national stage on issues that affect so many Americans.
Image: courtesy of Sarah Shannon