Judges to undergo training after racial disparities in court cases

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COLUMBIA- The U.S. Department of Justice released a report last year showing black youths were subjected to harsher treatment in St. Louis County.

In an attempt to counter this issue, Chief Justice Patricia Breckenridge said to lawmakers in her State of the Judiciary address Wednesday that racial bias training will be included in judicial education programs.

Circuit Court Judge Gary Oxenhandler said the purpose of the training will be to address personal biases that individuals may not even be aware they have.

"I don't think any of us are implicit-bias free," Oxenhandler said. "It doesn't matter how smart we are, how caring we may be, how sensitive we may be to race and ethnic issues, or any other protected category issues."

Oxenhandler said the idea of the training is to make workers more sensitive to biases so they can do a better job at work.

Community activist Traci Wilson-Kleekamp said the first word that came to mind when she heard of the new training was "hallelujah."

"It gives me hope that someone was paying attention to the Ferguson report and the changes that need to be made," Wilson-Kleekamp said. "Everyone brings bias to a situation, and you’re contributing to mass incarceration because of some of your biases. That’s a huge problem."

Wilson-Kleekamp said one way people can individually work on and recognize their biases is to self-reflect on personal identities and how individual experiences shape their perception of the world.

"You have to personally be vested and understanding that oppression is bad for our community period, you have to be self-willing to learn," Wilson-Kleekamp said.

One vital component needed to combat bias is the willingness to learn and change.

"Be conscious of your feelings and why you feel a certain way," Wilson-Kleekamp said. "Step back and ask, 'Why does that bother me?'"

Harvard College's "Project Implicit" is an initiative that allows the public to go onto its website and take a personal bias test. These tests are designed to make the user aware of individual biases and can help people to reevalute their biased beliefs.

Oxenhandler said he suggests the public take one of the tests to better understand and recognize implicit biases.

"I believe that the idea of the training is to make us more sensitive to those biases we have so that we can do a better job at our jobs," Oxenhandler said.