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.
The movement to elect reform-minded prosecutors has been around long enough and scored enough victories that progressive D.A.s now have their own support network: Fair and Just Prosecution. Miriam Krinsky, its executive director, explains why she thinks "starry-eyed idealists" who want to transform the justice system need to get the message that "the biggest difference they can make is to go and work in a prosecutor's office."
Project Reset seeks to provide a more proportionate and meaningful response to low-level offending by offering individuals with no prior arrests the opportunity to avoid prosecution and the collateral consequences of justice-involvement. This report evaluates the program pilot for 16- and 17-year-olds in Manhattan. Results point to positive impacts overall: participants had fewer new arrests and convictions and spent longer periods without experiencing a new arrest. Nearly all of the participants reported they would recommend the program to others.
How effective is therapy or treatment when it's used instead of incarceration, and what are the challenges to conducting it inside the coercive context of the criminal justice system? New Thinking host Matt Watkins is joined by clinical psychologist Jacob Ham who works with justice-involved young people affected by trauma, and John Jay College's Deborah Koetzle who evaluates programs aiming to help participants rebuild lives outside of the justice system.
Through conversations with prosecutors, reformers, and public defenders, our New Thinking podcast has been examining the ideas, victories, and challenges of the movement to educate the public about the power of prosecutors and to elect "progressive" district attorneys promising to overhaul the justice systems they're inheriting.
As a defense attorney, Larry Krasner sued the Philadelphia police upwards of 75 times. Then, in late 2017, he was elected D.A. in a landslide. As part of our series on the power of prosecutors, Krasner explains why he has little patience for compromise in a city whose justice system is "an outlier in a country that is an outlier."
In 2016, Adam Foss, a young prosecutor in Boston, gave a TED Talk on reforming his profession that became a sensation. Today he trains incoming prosecutors in D.A. offices across the country. In the latest episode of our series on prosecutors, Foss says the problem isn't that prosecutors have too much power; it's that no one is teaching them to use it for good.
In Misdemeanorland, Issa Kohler-Hausmann argues the lower courts are no longer primarily concerned with whether people actually committed the offense they’ve been accused of. Instead, the focus is on future behavior: upholding social order through managing and assessing—often over long stretches—everyone with the misfortune of entering Misdemeanorland. It's an argument that forces us to rethink what justice should look like in low-level cases.
Kim Foxx's unexpected 2016 victory in the race for State's Attorney for Cook County (Chicago) helped to ignite the movement to elect prosecutors promising something other than being "tough on crime." As part of our series on prosecutor power, Foxx explains the reforms she’s put in place, her struggles with being the face of a system that continues to fail so many of her constituents, and offers her take on the “incredible” gains made by the movement to elect a new kind of prosecutor.
Jill Harris says she's "shocked to find myself working for a D.A." A long-time advocate for criminal justice reform, Harris, now the head of the Brooklyn D.A.'s Justice 2020 reform initiative, offers her take on the role of the prosecutor in the third installment of our series on the debate over prosecutor power.