All posts by courtinnovation

How Will the Death Penalty End?



Journalist Maurice Chammah says the federal execution spree during the final weeks of the Trump presidency is evidence of the death penalty’s continued decline, not its resurgence. Chammah is the author of the new book, Let the Lord Sort Them: The Rise and Fall of the Death Penalty.

Chammah tracks the long arc of the death penalty—its use and its symbolism—alongside the evolution of the criminal justice system as a whole. And he grounds his discussion in American history, particularly the history of Texas, the epicenter of the American death penalty.

In Texas, Chammah contends, a romantic myth about rough frontier justice has been used to obscure the extent to which state-sanctioned execution grew out of mob-driven lynchings, generally of Black men, common across the South after the Civil War until well into the twentieth century.

Full show notes


COVID-19 Behind Bars: A Pandemic of Neglect



Homer Venters has been inspecting prisons, jails, and ICE detention centers for COVID-compliance almost since the start of the pandemic. The former chief medical officer for New York City jails says what were already substandard health systems and abusive environments have deteriorated sharply, where even people positive for the virus can languish unseen for days. Any fix to health care behind bars, he says, has to start with listening to the people these facilities have worked to silence: those with lived experience of the conditions.

Full show notes

Listen back to Venters’s New Thinking interview, ‘Jail-Attributable Deaths’


Heal and Punish? Treatment and Trauma Inside a Coercive System



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.

Full show notes

**This episode was originally released in January 2019**


Josie Duffy Rice: Fighting a Big Fight



Josie Duffy Rice says remaking the justice system is a generational struggle, but it’s one progressives are winning. The well-known criminal justice commentator and activist, president of the news site The Appeal and host of its podcast, Justice in America, explains why she believes in the power of big ideas and offers her take on the federal election, “defund the police,” and the role of the media in promoting, or thwarting, change.

Full show notes


Guns, Young People, Hidden Networks



Why do some young people carry guns? It’s a difficult question to answer. People in heavily-policed neighborhoods with high rates of violence aren’t generally enthusiastic about answering questions about gun use. In this special episode, hear from three of the authors of a groundbreaking year-long study into young people and guns. The findings are disturbing, but if the goal is to learn directly from marginalized communities what they need to combat gun use, no less important is the remarkable way the research was conducted.

Full show notes


Reform and Its Discontents



The movement to reform prisons is about as old as prisons themselves. But what is the ultimate goal of reform of a system like the criminal justice system? Victoria Law and Maya Schenwar contend that many of today’s most popular reforms—such as electronic monitoring and locked-down treatment centers—are extending, rather than countering, the justice system’s harmful effects. Their new book is Prison By Any Other Name.

Full show notes


What We All Get Wrong About Gun Violence



While crime of nearly every kind 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 DOJ 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.

This episode was originally released in July 2019 (new episodes start next week!)

Full show notes

Listen back to New Thinking’s episode with Patrick Sharkey, author of Uneasy Peace: The Great Crime Decline, The Renewal of City Life, and the Next War on Violence.

Learn more about the Center for Court Innovation’s “credible messenger” violence interruption program, Save Our Streets.


Misdemeanors, Race, and a History of Injustice



The alleged use of a $20 counterfeit bill, selling loose cigarettes on a street corner, a broken brake light—think how many police encounters that ended with the killing of a Black person began with misdemeanor enforcement. If you want to shrink the role of police and the justice system, misdemeanors are the best place to start. Low-level, often “order maintenance,” charges make up 80 percent of criminal cases, and it’s here the justice system’s endemic racial disparities are at their most yawning.

In this conversation from February 2019, Alexandra Natapoff explains how the consequences of the sprawling misdemeanor system can trail someone for life. She calls that system “one of the great, under-appreciated engines of racial inequality in this country,” tracing its roots to the backlash against Reconstruction at the end of the Civil War.

A professor of law at the University of California, Irvine, Natapoff is the author of Punishment Without Crime: How Our Massive Misdemeanor System Traps the Innocent and Makes America More Unequal.

Full show notes


Restorative Justice is Racial Justice



Restorative justice is about repairing harm. But for Black Americans, what is there to be restored to? This episode features a roundtable with eight members of the Center for Court Innovation’s Restorative Justice in Schools team. They spent three years embedded in five Brooklyn high schools—all five schools are overwhelmingly Black, and all five had some of the highest suspension rates in New York City.

Episode page

The episode features music from Zanny London, a student at one of the high schools in the program. Find more of his work on SoundCloud and Instagram.


Justice and the Virus: Racial Patterns



The death of George Floyd after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck for close to nine minutes has triggered a wave of long-held anger and revulsion across the country. Vincent Southerland, the executive director of the Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law at NYU, compares Floyd’s death—in public, in broad daylight—to a lynching. The furor comes in the midst of a pandemic itself exacerbated by racism. How will COVID-19, and the reaction to police violence, affect the deep racial patterns of the justice system?

Episode page

Interview recorded May 29

Hear the first episode in the ‘Justice and the Virus’ series with Rachel Barkow