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 help heal a racialized criminal justice system.
In 2017, more than 17,000 people were murdered in the United States, most of them in cities. On New Thinking, Thomas Abt, a long-time policy-maker and researcher, says, far from intractable, there are proven ways to reduce the violence, but he worries the urgency of acting now is being ignored. And when it comes to how we think about violence, he has a bone to pick with both the right and the left.
Drawing on a case study of more than 175,000 defendants in New York City, this report concludes concerns over risk assessments perpetuating racial disparities in pretrial decisions are real. However, at least in the New York City example, it finds a more targeted use of risk assessments could both significantly reduce pretrial detention and alleviate racial disparities. But realizing that potential requires jurisdictions to think "beyond the algorithm"—what do they want to use a risk assessment for?
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.
As part of a conference sponsored by the Center for Court Innovation and the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice, we asked justice system leaders and experts "What has been the biggest change in the New York City criminal justice system over the last five years?"
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.
How can the recent victories of the campaign to elect reform-minded district attorneys be wedded to larger systemic change to ensure the movement’s gains outlast the next election? On the final episode of our Prosecutor Power series, the ACLU's Somil Trivedi says progressive D.A.s have to take the next step of campaigning to reduce their own power.
Alexandra Natapoff calls the misdemeanor justice system a "quiet behemoth": making up four of every five criminal cases in the U.S., neglected by scholars and reformers, and potentially harming those caught up in it for life. In Punishment Without Crime, she describes a system warped by financial incentives that acts as a leading engine of racial and social inequality. She also says the reforms are obvious, and already happening in pockets across the country.