Community service has been a staple of sentencing in the United States for more than 50 years, yet we know surprisingly little about how it's actually being used. In Act One of this episode of New Thinking, an audio snapshot of community service at the Center for Court Innovation. In Act Two, Joanna Weiss of the Fines and Fees Justice Center offers a national perspective on community service, and the troubling findings of two new reports.
What’s the connection between ending bail and closing jails? Organizing, organizing, organizing. On New Thinking, the Katal Center's gabriel sayegh explains why New York's reforms to bail might be the most significant in the country, and, when it comes to New York City's notorious Rikers jail, what needs to happen to get "the last person off that island."
As chief medical officer for New York City jails, Homer Venters realized early in his tenure that for many people dying in jail, the primary cause of death was jail itself. To document what was actually taking place behind bars, Venters and his team created a statistical category no one had dared to track before: "jail-attributable deaths." His work led him into frequent opposition with the security services. It also led to his book, Life and Death in Rikers Island.
Can art transform the criminal justice system? On this special edition of New Thinking, host Matt Watkins sits down with two New York City artists on the rise—Derek Fordjour and Shaun Leonardo—who both work with our Project Reset to provide an arts-based alternative to court and a criminal record for people arrested on a low-level charge. With the program set to expand city-wide, the three discuss art's potential to expose and contain a racialized criminal justice system.
While crime has been declining amid COVID-19, in cities across the country, gun violence and homicides have been the exceptions. Long-time researcher and former Obama Department of Justice official, Thomas Abt, says there are proven solutions to reduce the violence. But he says both the right and the left fail to grasp the essence of any solution: focus on the violence itself. Abt is the author of Bleeding Out: The Devastating Consequences of Urban Violence and a Bold New Plan for Peace in the Streets.
With so much focus on keeping people out of jail and prison, what about work to improve life for the more than two million people already there? One group beginning to mobilize on the issue is prosecutors. Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby and Washington, D.C., Attorney General Karl Racine explain the “bright line” they see running from the overt racial control in America’s past to the disparities and dehumanizing practices behind bars today.
Rachel Barkow contends criminal justice policy is a “prisoner of politics,” driven by appeals to voters’ worst instincts and an aversion to evidence of what actually works. In her new book, the NYU law professor makes a provocative case for “freeing” criminal justice from the political imperative in order to achieve real reform.
On New Thinking, the well-known journalist and commentator Emily Bazelon talks about her new book, Charged, on the "movement to transform American prosecution," and where she thinks power might be shifting in the criminal justice system. Progressive prosecutors are very much a minority among elected D.A.s, but what if they could be the model for dismantling what Bazelon calls America's "giant machine of punishment"?
Rachael Rollins says she has seen the criminal justice system from "almost every angle." Now, as Boston's first female African-American district attorney, she's setting the agenda. On New Thinking, she explains her approach of "services not sentences" as a response to low-level "crimes of poverty" and the urgency of changing the traditional role of the prosecutor.
Like a number of cities across the U.S., New York City is in the midst of a remarkable, often contentious, debate about the future and purpose of its jails. New Thinking host Matt Watkins recently moderated a public discussion of the city’s pledge to replace its notorious Rikers Island jail complex with a series of smaller, modern facilities—located near courthouses, not on an isolated island. It's a shift the mayor says will end the era of mass incarceration in the city.