Yesterday, a jury of 12 Americans and the criminal legal system at large took a step toward accountability. It is a word that has come up throughout the reporting on the Derek Chauvin trial and again in the President Biden’s comments after the verdict. Accountability. It is also a word that often appears in how CASES describes our work, in sentences like: CASES programs hold court-involved individuals accountable while providing services that help them to build skills and achieve their goals while remaining in the community.
The second part of that sentence has been a core focus of our work at CASES: how we can provide programs that help people who have become caught up in cycles of arrest and incarceration to remain in the community while having access to effective services and meaningful opportunities. The hard work and achievements of CASES clients—and our staff—have provided extensive evidence of the effectiveness of alternatives to entrenched criminal legal system approaches, evidence that has supported groundbreaking and sometimes far-reaching reform.
But over the years, as we have held our clients and ourselves to the highest standards of accountability, I do not think we have focused enough on holding the system itself accountable for the harm it has done and continues to do to so many of our clients and so many of our communities. There is no difference between the murder of Eric Garner in Staten Island in 2014 and the murder of George Floyd in 2020. Still, I want to believe that yesterday’s verdict will prove a true turning point in America. In that Minneapolis courtroom, a police chief joined community members young and old who came forward to testify against Chauvin. On all counts, Chauvin was found guilty. Yet, not 10 miles from that courtroom, Daunte Wright was murdered by police as the trial proceeded. I understand that a long road remains.
Accountability—to delivering high-quality, person-centered services—infuses every aspect of CASES’ work with the people we are privileged to serve. It shapes every first interview with a potential client in a court holding pen, every community visit to a client’s residence, every work-readiness class, every telehealth call, every meeting with stakeholders and policymakers. As always, I am thankful to be in this work alongside every member of the CASES community.
Accountability is a basic, fundamental requirement—and yesterday’s verdict may indeed prove a significant step—in the continued struggle toward the true goal, a criminal legal system that is truly just.
Joel Copperman, CEO
Photo credit: Vasanth Rajkumar/Wikimedia Commons