The Gainesville For All criminal justice team explored several ways to address racial disparities within the criminal justice system.

The team spent time considering the disparities that exist and how we as a community could address these issues through the courts and law enforcement. The main topics of discussion were bail reform, trauma-informed courts, less-than-lethal weapons, a central receiving facility and restorative justice.

Changes should be made to keep low-level offenders from being kept in jail because they can't afford bail. This requires working with the chief judge to revise an administrative order that includes the bond schedule used by local judges. We urge the elimination of bail for low-level offenses, and the release of non-violent offenders who do not present a danger to the community before their court dates.

Another recommendation was expanding the use of trauma-informed response training and developing trauma-informed courtrooms by working through the Florida Bar to make it part of continuing legal education. Studies show that adverse childhood experiences are linked to problematic outcomes for individuals who experience them. When courtrooms are trauma-informed and all personnel (judges, attorneys, court officers, probation officers, jail staff, etc.) are trained in this area, it can lead to positive outcomes.

Mental health continues to be a priority. A central receiving facility would provide immediate access to crisis intervention and stabilization. Law enforcement officers can transport the person to one secure location for professional evaluation, stabilization and care coordination,and  then return to patrol quickly. Although we support the idea of such a  facility for those who are arrested with mental health issues, there needs to be a continuing commitment of funding from the state.

Restorative justice can help divert people from the criminal justice system, while providing accountability and connection to resources. Bringing together the victim, the offender, families and other support people in reconciliation circles can come up with a way that the victim feels restored and the offender understands the harm they have caused. We support programs such as River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding’s restorative justice pilot program with the State Attorney's Office.

Local law enforcement agencies can benefit from less-lethal weapons to minimize the use of lethal force in certain situations. Law enforcement agencies have limited access to the aforementioned weapons, which hinders their availability for their use when these situations arise. Having these weapons available to all law enforcement officers will help them became an option for use during situations that call for them.

Changes have already been happening in the local criminal justice system. The State Attorney’s Office recently placed into policy a review of all misdemeanor arrests before they will consider prosecution. The State Attorney’s Office should be commended for taking such a proactive approach.

The GNV4ALL criminal justice team requests that community members come together to continue to address these issues, as they affect us all, either directly or indirectly. Resources that are saved within the criminal justice system can be used to help keep others from entering the system by educating and training people for job opportunities.

Lawrence Certain is chair of the GNV4ALL criminal justice team.