Indiana Supreme court to mandate racial tracking in court system

All 92 Indiana courts will be implementing a rule to track ethnicity when filing court cases.

Posted: Jun 26, 2020 7:53 PM

TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) -- All 92 Indiana courts will be implementing a rule to track ethnicity when filing court cases.

This is a way state leaders are working to get to the root of racial disparities happening within the criminal justice system. If racial identity is documented for every person who enters the court system, then state leaders can use that information to find if and where the un-equal treatment is taking place among people of different racial groups.

Last week News 18 spoke with Lafayette Lawyer Kirk Freeman. He recently created a proposal for Tippecanoe County court leaders to implement a racial tracking rule in hopes of discovering racial injustices that could be happening in the county court system.

Earlier this month, Indiana Supreme Court Justice Loretta Rush wrote a letter in response to the nationwide protests fighting for racial equality. In it, she called out the racial disparities happening right within the Indiana justice system. Tippecanoe County Prosecutor Pat Harrington agrees that these disparities are something to address. He said this mandated rule can be useful for everyone.

"Any kind of information, any kind of traffic ticket or criminal case is entered into the electric filing system, that's one of the data points that have to be listed before the case can be filed," said Harrington.

This Indiana Supreme Court mandate to record ethnicity in cases was created for informational purposes. Harrington joins a number of court leaders across the state hoping this helps identify racial injustice taking place within their county.

"I think this software system is important, I think all data is relevant and it's important to understand and interpret it so you know what's going on there," said Harrington.

The Indiana Supreme Court Office of Judicial Administration is mandating that all courts implement the racial tracking rule by the end of 2020. Harrington reports at least 25% of the state has already started recording racial data. But the COVID-19 pandemic has played a role in slowing the process for courts across the state to implement the rule. 

Harrington said this mandate was introduced before the protests and demonstrations.

"The system was started before, this just didn't start yesterday, they had to do a lot of research in the software then had to roll it out," said Harrington. "They had hoped to be fully up and running by February but COVID-19 hit and from the information I received, they have fallen behind."

In addition to capturing the race of individuals with court cases, Harrington said officers will also be documenting the ethnicity of those ticketed during traffic stops. Right now Indiana license do not have race listed as a description. It's unclear at this time how officers will get that information from those they ticket. 

Harrington is interested in seeing what this data will uncover as studies begin next year.

"I'm looking forward to seeing the data they're interpreting across the state," said Harrington. "I think this is going to be another valuable piece of information so we can keep improving the system and go forward," said Harrington.

Tippecanoe County Clerk Julie Roush said the county is operating under the state's newest online filing system. She said it's unclear when the court system will begin documenting ethnicity in its cases.

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