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Human Genome News, Jan.-Feb. 1995; 6(5): 14

Association Considers Genetics, Justice, Minorities

With a program entitled "DNA: Genetics, Criminal Justice, and the Minority Community," a large professional association considered for the first time the implications of genetics for law enforcement and civil rights. On September 23-24, 1994, the Justice George Lewis Ruffin Society of Massachusetts marked its tenth anniversary by bringing Boston law-enforcement representatives together with minority professionals to examine issues of genetics; race; criminal behavior; and civil discrimination in employment, insurance, and health care.

Ruffin Society President Judge Julian R. Houston (Massachusetts Superior Court) heralded the 150-person convocation as "an opportunity for us to confront and consider the future as it rolls out of the laboratory and into the courtroom and the streets." Aided by a grant from the Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues (ELSI) component of the DOE Human Genome Program, the conference received high marks from participants and local news media. "We planned carefully," Houston said, "and it paid off with a program and a process in which I think we justifiably can take pride." The project is managed by Robert D. Croatti, Associate Dean of the College of Criminal Justice, Northeastern University.

The conference planning committee included a representative from each of the collaborating organizations: College of Criminal Justice of Northeastern University; Massachusetts State Police; Boston Police Department; Massachusetts Division of Probation and Parole; Massachusetts Superior Court; Harvard University Law School; Franklin Flaschner Judicial Institute; Whitehead Institute; and the Washington-based Einstein Institute for Science, Health, and the Courts.

"You can't depend on just one sector when we see the spillover of genetic discovery into criminal proceedings, discrimination, and health care," Houston observed. "It takes a whole team, and we were very lucky to have had one."

Convocation plenary and discussion sessions surveyed every high-profile issue confronting forensic and medical molecular biology, from criminal identification and paternity establishment to the possible role of genetics in criminal predisposition. The educational program featured plenary sessions in DNA analysis, behavioral predisposition limitations, and technologies generated and promised by the Human Genome Project.

The unique program featured five small-group discussions with trained leaders and recorders. These groups focused on hypothetical cases involving the day-to-day implications of scientific progress. Postdoctoral fellows from the Whitehead Institute served as science advisors, who were trained by Franklin Zweig (Einstein Institute) and Judge Rosalyn Bell (Maryland Court of Special Appeals).

The Ruffin Society, an association of minority criminal justice professionals employed in Massachusetts law enforcement, is named for the first African American appointed to the Massachusetts courts (in 1883). A 57-page report drafted by Einstein Institute personnel is being converted into a booklet highlighting the Ruffin Convocation (book requests, Fax: 301/913-5739).

In the report Zweig and Bell commented, "The ELSI program has shown in this convocation that minority engagement with issues raised by genetics can produce a real and durable agenda that in turn can undergird future policy considerations. The Ruffin Society has shown that these issues can be anticipated, discussed, and interpreted within a scientific, legal, and social context."

Franklin M. Zweig, Einstein Institute

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Human Genome Program, U.S. Department of Energy, Human Genome News (v6n5).

Human Genome Project 1990–2003

The Human Genome Project (HGP) was an international 13-year effort, 1990 to 2003. Primary goals were to discover the complete set of human genes and make them accessible for further biological study, and determine the complete sequence of DNA bases in the human genome. See Timeline for more HGP history.

Human Genome News

Published from 1989 until 2002, this newsletter facilitated HGP communication, helped prevent duplication of research effort, and informed persons interested in genome research.