Washington State Courts

09/16/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 09/16/2021 11:56

“Gender and Race Matter”: Groundbreaking Study by Gender and Justice Commission Examines How Gender and Race Impede Fair and Equal Justice

'Gender and Race Matter': Groundbreaking Study by Gender and Justice Commission Examines How Gender and Race Impede Fair and Equal Justice

September 16, 2021

Olympia, WA - The Washington Supreme Court's Gender and Justice Commission (GJC) released a groundbreaking, three-year study today. The study documents the many ways that gender and race affect those who come through our Washington courts and it proposes changes for the future. The Commission will now go on to the next step: taking action to expand programs that are working and to change programs that need change.

The study includes a detailed look at numerous barriers to equal justice using extensive data collection from legal and social science sources. It also presents the results of five pilot projects on the growing incarceration of women - particularly Black and other women of color; a cost-effective and productive domestic violence treatment; how lack of child care affects accessing justice; disproportionate jury representation; and workplace harassment in the judicial branch.

The study's results were clear: gender impacts access to courts and one's treatment within the justice system, and the adverse impacts of gender are most pronounced for Black, Indigenous, other women of color, and LGBTQ+ persons.

'Gender and race matter,' said Washington Supreme Court Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud, co-chair of the GJC and co-chair of the study. 'We knew that they affected access to justice in the past, from slavery and disenfranchisement to jury exclusion and sentencing. And we know that we have not escaped our past. But now we also have evidence-based details about how gender and race keep women, especially women of color, from fair and equal treatment in our justice system today.'

Today's report expands on another groundbreaking Washington state study - Washington's 1989 report, Gender & Justice in the Courts. That 1989 report prompted the Supreme Court to establish the GJC and led to numerous improvements over three decades. Both studies have been among the first of their kind in the nation.

The new study, titled '2021: How Gender and Race Affect Justice Now,' was funded with a grant from the State Justice Institute and matching funds from the Administrative Office of the Courts and Gender and Justice Commission.

Some 2021 findings about our Washington state courts include:

  • The costs of accessing our courts such as user fees, childcare, and lawyers create barriers that fall more heavily on single mothers; on Black, Indigenous and women of color; and on people with disabilities.
  • Lack of affordable childcare limits the ability of low-income women to get to court, showing the need for flexible court hours and remote access to courts.
  • Domestic violence and sexual assault overwhelmingly affect women and LGBTQ+ persons, who face barriers to reporting this violence. The large number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and people remain a key concern.
  • The state law requiring mandatory arrests in domestic violence situations may have unintended adverse effects on women, people of color, immigrants, those living in poverty, and LGBTQ+ people.
  • The justice system response to commercial sexual exploitation has greatly improved, but still treats many in the sex industry, including exploited populations, as criminals.
  • One pilot project found that in our own state, Black, Indigenous and other women of color are convicted and sentenced at much higher rates than white women.
  • Women continue to face bias and pay disparities in the legal profession; women and men of color are still underrepresented in judicial and law firm leadership positions.

'We have a lot of very important new information, thanks to our dedicated staff and to hundreds of volunteers who worked thousands of hours on this project,' said Dr. Dana Raigrodski, University of Washington School of Law professor and co-chair of the study. Volunteers joined the multi-faceted study from across the state and included lawyers, judges, professors, social scientists, law students, lawmakers, experts in specific disciplines, community representatives and people with lived experiences in the areas studied.

These findings resulted in five main goals:

  1. Improve data collection in every area of law covered in the report, and share the information with researchers;
  2. Improve access to the courts in every area of law covered in the report including expanding remote access to courts, adopting more flexible court hours, reducing language and communication barriers, increasing access to legal help and ensuring all courts treat court users in a trauma-responsive manner;
  3. Address the impacts of the vast increase in convictions and detention (of both men and women) over the last generation, especially on communities of color;
  4. Reduce reliance on court user fees and legal/financial obligations to fund the courts; this revenue source adversely impacts low-income women and Black, Indigenous and other women and people of color;
  5. Identify the best curricula for judicial and legal education on gender and race bias.

In addition, the judicial branch will be addressing the results of its workplace harassment survey of employees of Washington courts, superior court clerks' offices and judicial branch agencies. The survey had more than 1,700 respondents and took a broad look at workplace behaviors that might not meet the legal definition of harassment, but are considered serious enough to create a disrespectful and unwelcome work environment. The study found that 57 percent of respondents had experienced at least one type of workplace harassment in the past 18 months, and that the highest rates were experienced by those identifying as Indigenous, bisexual, gay or lesbian, multiracial, court clerks and women.

'These results remind us we have much work to do. If we are working genuinely to improve justice, we must be willing to look within and listen to what judicial branch employees are telling us,' said Chief Justice Steven C. González, who served as a member of the Gender and Justice Commission through much of the study.

Justice Gordon McCloud expressed deep gratitude to the study's coordinators and staff members, and for the many Commission and committee members and volunteers involved in the comprehensive study. Many have already volunteered to work on implementing solutions.

The Washington State Gender and Justice Commission was established by the state Supreme Court in 1994 to identify measures for preventing gender bias in the courts. The Commission followed the work of the Gender and Justice Task Force, created by the Supreme Court in 1988 to thoroughly research and identify specific gender bias in the judicial system, and to develop recommendations for addressing it.

CONTACT: Washington Supreme Court Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud, Chair, Gender and Justice Commission, (360) 357-2046; Dr. Dana Raigrodski, UW School of Law, [email protected]; Kelley Amburgey-Richardson, senior court program analyst for the Gender and Justice Commission, [email protected], (360) 704-4031.

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