The Legal Foundation of Washington gave its highest honor, the 2014 Charles A. Goldmark Distinguished Service Award, to the Washington State Task Force on Race and the Criminal Justice System last month for the wonderful work it has done in the past few years.

The task force was formed in 2010 after two state Supreme Court justices said during a public meeting that the state had no racial disparity within its legal justice system. The justices’ statements shocked the people attending that meeting and our legal community. A task force was created to investigate and report a need for reform within the state and national criminal justice systems.

Shocking Comments Spurred Task Force Creation

Their comments were disturbing and certainly did not reflect the views of the rest of us working in the legal community. Yet, the study they did shed light on inequity in our state. Plus, programs initiated in response will help the state and all of its residents. See the task force’s data here.

For example, a study of juveniles in the state found that black youth were twice as likely to be arrested as their white peers.

black youth


Results and Participation Impressive

Black and Native American/Native Alaskan youths were twice as likely to be sent to court. These juveniles were also likely to go to jail, often because they missed court hearings. Workers from Pierce County explained how its diversion program helps youths by making sure they have extra notification of hearings – and a ride to the hearing. This reduced the juvenile incarceration rate drastically. It is these types of ideas that the task force sought to help improve our justice system.

I was also impressed with the Washington Supreme Court which twice opened its courthouse to the public for presentations from the task force. Representatives attending these presentations were from the:

  • Washington State Bar Association Board of Governors
  • Washington State Access to Justice Board
  • Minority and Justice and Gender and Justice Commissions
  • Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys
  • Defender Association
  • State’s specialty bar associations
  • State’s three law schools

You may view both presentations here.

Task force members Washington Supreme Court Justice Steven González, Seattle University School of Law Professor Robert Chang and Office of Administrative Hearings Judge Nicole Gaines accepted the Goldmark award for the entire force.