New Indiana commission focuses on equal access to justice

IN Focus: Indiana Politics

INDIANAPOLIS — A new state-level commission focused on equity in the justice system will meet for the first time next month.

The Commission on Equity and Access will look at ways to ensure equal access to justice for all Hoosiers and increase the public’s trust in Indiana’s courts, according to Justice Steve David of the Indiana Supreme Court, who chairs the commission.

The commission, which was formed under the Indiana Supreme Court, will take a broad look at the court system, Justice David added. Its 21 members include prosecutors, judges and public defenders, along with educators and members of the legislative and executive branches of state government, according to officials.

“Are we collecting good data?” asked Justice David. “What’s the data? What are the questions? What have we been missing for years?”

Gina Forrest, who was hired in July as the Indiana Supreme Court’s chief diversity officer, is also working with the commission.

“I hope the work is never done,” she said. “I hope this is a commission that is long lasting, that this is just the beginning.”

Retired Marion Superior Court Judge David Shaheed said he hopes the new commission will mark the start of a conversation in Indiana’s court system.

“Sadly, there’s a history in America where people of color, African Americans in particular, felt that the legal system did not really address their concerns as human beings,” Judge Shaheed said.

The Commission on Equity and Access is expected to release a written report with recommendations by the end of 2022, according to the Indiana Supreme Court.

But Rev. David Greene, Sr., president of the Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis, said he believes that’s not soon enough.

“The topic is clearly crucial and very important,” Rev. Greene said. “The disappointing piece that I’m seeing thus far is that they’ve given a range up until December 2022. I think that takes way too long when you’re addressing a problem.”

According to Justice David, the commission doesn’t have to wait until that deadline and can issue interim reports with recommendations at any time.

“Doing what is right and doing what is necessary is not always easy and fast,” Justice David said. “And we want to get this right.”

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