URBANA — For about the last year, citizens called to jury service in Champaign County have been asked to identify themselves by race.
The idea is to collect meaningful statistics to see if juries are reflective of the makeup of the community.
"The National College of State Courts has a formula and we're within the range. But we should be able to do better," said presiding Judge Tom Difanis in reference to the low numbers of minorities who end up serving.
On Thursday, Aaron Ammons, chairman of the Citizens Advisory Committee on Jury Service, of which Difanis is also a member, will update members of the League of Women Voters on the work of the committee to improve diversity in jury pools.
The public is invited to the brown bag lunch beginning at 11:30 a.m. at the Urbana City Building, 400 S. Vine St., U. The meeting will be in the council chambers.
Ammons, who works at the University of Illinois, is a community activist and has published a book of poetry.
He's been on the jury service committee since its creation by the county board in early 2009.
It was created in response to a joint report done annually for several years by court watchers for the League of Women Voters in conjunction with University of Illinois law school students. That showed an over-representation of white women and an under-representation of African-Americans in the jury pool.
The students and court watchers attempted to identify potential jurors by race just by looking at them. The committee decided a more accurate approach would be to ask jurors their race and use that information to identify ways to increase diversity in the pool.
Committee members have reached out to younger people, who are less frequently on juries, by appearing on radio call-in programs, through public service announcements, speaking publicly, and and handing out brochures at community events.
The committee has five county officials and 10 community members.