New Hampshire’s justice system addresses implicit bias and DEI

A Prison Project study found that Black people make up about 2% of the NH population, but account for 7% of the prison population; Latinos make up 4% of the population and are 7% of the prison population
Nh Superior Court Justice William Delker

Judge William Delker

At the end of 2022, the NH Judicial Branch launched a diversity and inclusion initiative to ensure that everyone is provided with equal access to justice, and to eliminate unconscious cultural biases within the court system. The strategic plan is already underway and features a handful of key initiatives.

Why is the judicial system undertaking this DEI effort now? A recent study by the Prison Project found that Black people make up around 2 percent of the population of the New Hampshire population, but account for 7 percent of the overall prison population. Latinos make up 4 percent of the state population but are 7 percent of the prison population. Whites are about 90 percent of the NH population, but are just 84 percent of the prison population.

The first phase of the initiative is self-examination, involving an analysis of the court system to create a baseline for the work to be done.

Superior Court Justice N. William Delker, who is part of the Judicial Branch’s Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee, explains that:

“Our constitutional mandate is to provide impartial justice that is equal to anyone who comes to the courts, regardless of their background. So, we need to understand if we’re doing that and fulfilling that constitutional mandate, understand what we are doing well, and where we can improve.”

This includes data about what New Hampshire courts are doing, how they’re doing it, and how it impacts the people who interact with the court system – whether they are witnesses, parties to a case, victims, or defendants in criminal cases. The analysis encompasses the courts’ internal human resources, the rules relating to personnel, and other employee-related issues that could impact people’s willingness to consider the judicial branch as an employment opportunity.

Training and workforce diversity

One of the most hands-on parts of the strategy to ensure diversity and inclusion in New Hampshire’s courts is ongoing systematic training of court staff – from all departments – to ensure the judicial system’s internal human resources reflect the communities they serve.

Judge Delker adds: “Our focus is on court staff. From the folks who meet you at the window when you come in to file a court case, to the bailiffs in the courtroom, to judges and clerks of court, and everyone in between. We want to train people to help them become aware of those things that may not be obvious in terms of how their interaction with people of different backgrounds may be affecting the user’s experiences of the courts.”

Besides addressing the court staff’s unconscious biases and their sensitivity to factors such as race, gender, disabilities, socio-economic conditions, and limited English proficiency among users of the court system, the Judicial Branch implemented another important action directed at increasing workforce diversity.

Judge Delker said he believes that making the application process transparent and consistent will open up new opportunities for internships and clerkships for any jobs within the court system:

“Prior to this initiative, you really had to know somebody to get an internship. There was no transparent process and no standardized application system. You either had to know a judge or have the sort of gumption to just cold call a judge and say ‘I’m interested in this’. I’m the first lawyer in my family, and I knew no lawyers growing up. I can only imagine it’s even more inaccessible if you come from an underserved background.”

Members of the Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee have been working closely with the NH Bar Association as well as educational institutions, such as the University of New Hampshire Law School and its career services. Together, they have developed an application process for interns who want to experience the court system, working with judges and seeing the process from the inside, so that they can decide if this is a career opportunity they want.

Community feedback

The initiative has other components, such as internal and external communication efforts to increase cultural awareness, and engaging in public outreach to get feedback from court users. To Delker, this is an opportunity to connect with people who use the court system:

“When the initiative was publicly launched, back in December 2022, we connected with community leaders, like the team at the New Hampshire Center for Justice and Equity, and we’re hoping that those community leaders can put us in direct contact with people who are affected by the court system so that we can hear their experiences and understand firsthand how the way court approaches cases is affecting people. The feedback we get from the community will help us develop concrete initiatives moving forward.”

With this work, New Hampshire now belongs to the group of state courts across the United States that have recognized that identifying cultural biases and making changes in the workplace are essential to building trust and confidence in the justice system. This effort has been recognized and supported by the National Center for State Courts, which is the nation’s leading resource for state court planning, policy, and innovation.

Community Leaders are the bridge to connect the impacted communities and the court system

The Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee relies on community leaders to support and foster engagement with the constituents. This could be, for example, advising on the best ways to develop outreach, or recommending gathering places where community members feel more comfortable having this type of exchange.

For Delker, the event that launched the judicial branch’s initiative last year was a unique opportunity to engage people in a discussion about the court system:

“Sometimes it’s intimidating to come to a courthouse, so being in that environment helped make people more open, receptive, and willing to share ideas. That is part of what the December 8th event was designed to be – a space to connect with the community leaders so that they can help us make those connections and understand what the best way to gather data is. And I don’t think there is a ‘one size fits all’ for community outreach. It may be one-on-one conversations for some, coming to a meeting or a gathering place for others, or even an online format.”

For Judge Delker, a fair society is one where everyone is treated with respect and dignity:

“Our vision is that anyone can feel that they’ve come to the court system and have been provided a fair hearing. The judicial process needs to be open to listening and understanding people’s perspectives and where they are in life. And I think the ultimate goal for a successful court system is that both sides – whether you’re on the winning side or the losing side of a case – feel like they are treated fairly and with the respect and dignity that everyone deserves as a human being, and as a member of our society.”

This articles are being shared with partners in The Granite State News Collaborative by The NH Center for Justice and Equity. For more information visit

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