Housing is a human right. What if we designed our systems—beginning with Housing Court—to embody that? Given the current eviction crisis, it’s a far-off concept, but there’s work to make it a reality in pockets across the country. In this special episode, hear a profile of one of those efforts in a Brooklyn neighborhood.
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Nominated for a Media for a Just Society award, revisit New Thinking’s conversation with activists Victoria Law and Maya Schenwar. In their book, Prison By Any Other Name, Law and Schenwar contend that much of what is packaged today as “reforms” to the criminal legal system are extending, not countering, that system’s harmful effects. So what is the ultimate goal of reform of a system like the criminal legal system?
Efforts to reform the justice system often tout they’re “evidence-based” or “data-driven.” But at a moment when a national increase in crime, likely triggered by the pandemic, seems to have put the reform movement on its heels, why do arguments based on data rarely seem to win the day? Guests Christina Greer and John Pfaff are both scholars and frequent media commentators working at the intersection of criminal justice data and politics.
New York City has committed to closing its notorious Rikers Island jail facility by 2027. That could dramatically reorient the city’s approach to incarceration. The plan envisions a citywide jail population of just over 3,000 people. But the population at Rikers has been growing for months, and Rikers itself is engulfed in crisis amidst a historic spike in deaths. What are the prospects for finally getting Rikers closed?
Eyal Press contends there are entire areas of life we’ve delegated to “dirty workers”—functions we’ve declared necessary, but that we strive to keep hidden. In his new book, Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America, Press points to the transformation of jails and prisons into the country’s largest mental health institutions. He calls the people struggling to offer treatment in those settings “dirty workers”—not because their work isn’t noble, but because collectively we’ve put them in a situation where it’s impossible to practice ethical care.
Hear a related New Thinking episode with Homer Venters, the former chief medical officer for NYC Jails.
Justice reforms often exclude people with charges involving violence, even though these are the same people most likely to be incarcerated and to be in the most need of the programs and treatment reform can bring. But a felony court in Manhattan is offering alternatives to incarceration, regardless of charge. Can a treatment-first approach be brought to scale inside of the same system responsible for mass incarceration in the first place?
An audio snapshot from an emergency rally demanding immediate measures to release people from New York City’s Rikers Island jail. Eleven people have died in the custody of the city’s jail system this year as Rikers’ chief medical officer warns of “a collapse in basic jail operations.”
Hurt people hurt people. That’s not an excuse for harm, but it fuels much of the criminal legal system. At 19, Marlon Peterson was the unarmed lookout on a robbery where two people were killed. Peterson spent a decade behind bars. He writes about those years, and the childhood in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, that preceded them, in his new memoir, Bird Uncaged: An Abolitionist’s Freedom Song. I made my own choices, Peterson says, “but I also did not choose to experience the type of things I experienced.”
In 1996, 16-year-old Reginald Dwayne Betts was sentenced to nine years in prison for a carjacking. He spent much of that time reading, and eventually writing. After prison, he went to Yale Law School and published a memoir and three books of poems. But he’s still wrestling with what “after prison” means. This is a conversation about incarceration, Blackness, and the weight of history, both political and personal. Betts’s most recent collection of poems is Felon.
This episode was originally released in January 2020.
In her new book, historian Elizabeth Hinton highlights a “crucible period” of often violent rebellions in the name of the Black freedom struggle beginning in 1968. Initiated in almost every instance by police violence, the rebellions—dismissed as “riots”—have been largely written out of the history of the civil rights era. Hinton contends the period is critical for understanding the roots of mass incarceration and contains important lessons today for people organizing against police violence.
Hinton’s book is America on Fire: The Untold History of Police Violence and Black Rebellion Since the 1960s.