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Panel notes strides in racial fairness

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The commission created to monitor the racial and ethnic fairness of the state's criminal justice system sees slow but steady changes.

The Commission on Racial and Ethnic Fairness in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice System's second annual report, released Monday, paints the picture of a wide range of efforts, all pointed in the right direction, all dramatic undertakings that will require time and patience.

The report also draws a road map for the commission to follow in 2004. Plans include encouraging law enforcement agencies to collect more useful data on people they stop and recruiting more minorities to work in law enforcement.

Racial data is collected by voluntary self-reporting of race and ethnicity on individuals' driver's licenses. The report says an unexpectedly low number of drivers applying for new or renewed licenses volunteered that information. However, it says, that is improving.

"Our efforts . . . aren't going to be realized in one or two or three years," said Keith Hamilton, a former employee of the state Board of Pardons and Parole and now a private attorney who is a commission co-chairman. "We're going to have to be diligent and vigilant every day."

Hamilton and others on the commission said it has two goals: improving fairness for the state's minorities and repairing the legal system's image in the eyes of minority Utahns.