At the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, we stress diversity awareness and inclusion training as a major part of our continuing education program. The Office has long recognized that it serves a very diverse population in Chicago and the suburbs. In order for the Office to provide successfully for the public’s safety and for just decisions, our employees must understand and respect the cultural, racial and religious backgrounds of the many individuals who come into contact with the criminal, juvenile and civil justice systems.
Every newly hired Assistant State’s Attorney participates in a mandatory, three-day orientation and basic skills course each November. Several training sessions are devoted exclusively to presentations on diversity awareness and inclusion. Office supervisors and outside speakers candidly discuss issues such as racism in the criminal justice system, stereotyping, ways to encourage inclusion and create an awareness about subtle behaviors or language that may unintentionally offend or alienate someone. We also deal with the ethical duties of attorneys, and have presentations on how to successfully work with crime victims, witnesses, police officers and investigators and administrative staff within the Office. In addition, all of our nearly 900 ASAs receive continuing informal training at the unit and division level, as well as mentoring, advice and feedback through work evaluations by their supervisors. All supervisors are aware that in our daily contact with the public, our staff must treat people with respect and courtesy.
Since the advent of mandatory continuing legal education (CLE) in Illinois in September of 2005, the Office has conducted larger, semi-annual training seminars on ethics and professional responsibility for the entire Office. The Illinois Supreme Court has mandated that all attorneys in Illinois must attend a minimum of four hours of CLE courses every two years in the area of professionalism, diversity issues, mental illness and addiction issues, civility and legal ethics. Since July of 2007, the Office has conducted three courses that covered professional responsibility, including diversity awareness and inclusion.
The Office is committed to continuing these Office-wide seminars on professional responsibility and will continue to offer topics on diversity awareness and inclusion at these seminars. Ethics and professional responsibility training segments have also been incorporated into the Office’s capital litigation seminars and in other Office training seminars. For example, the Office regularly conducts presentations on the law concerning jury selection and ensures that all ASAs know that it is illegal to engage in racial discrimination by using peremptory challenges to exclude members of a minority group solely because they are members of that group.
In November of 2007, the Office initiated a mandatory diversity awareness seminar for the State’s Attorney and the Office’s 30 supervisors in order to educate them and raise their awareness. Experienced attorneys with corporate diversity and inclusion training expertise from the Chicago Urban League and from the consulting firm, the Kaleidoscope Group, created and facilitated this seminar. This program was specially tailored to address issues based on the unique functions performed by the Office in the criminal, juvenile, and civil justice systems. This highly interactive program engaged the Office’s decision- and policy-makers in exercises to help them think in new and creative ways about diversity and inclusion issues.
The State’s Attorney’s Office continues to look for fresh, new and innovative ways to present the best available training on diversity awareness and inclusion. The Office has made this strong commitment because it is critical to our success in the courtroom. As our Office staff shows respect for all members of the community, so, too, will the community respect our work and our system of justice.