Category Archives: Uncategorized

Gideon at 60: The Unfunded Mandate

As the legal scholar Paul Butler wrote ten years ago, “On every anniversary of Gideon, liberals bemoan the state of indigent defense.” On this 60th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision granting a lawyer to every poor defendant facing prison time, there is much to bemoan. Yet as the harms of the criminal legal system come into sharper relief, there is a larger question: even if Gideon‘s promise was fulfilled, how much would that change who principally suffers under the current system: the poor and people of color?

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When Young People Go to Prison for Life

April Barber Scales was a pregnant 15-year-old when she received two life sentences; Anthony Willis was 16 when he was sent away for life. After more than 25 years behind bars, they each received something desperately rare: clemency. They describe how they fought against a prison system that “sets you up for failure.” We also hear from an organization in Baltimore that works exclusively with young people at high risk of violence. Rather than arrests and incarceration, what do these young people need?

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Emphasizing the Harms

A recent two-day training for Manhattan prosecutors was a drumbeat on the harms of incarceration; hardly the typical message prosecutors receive. The training was part of a wider effort by D.A. Alvin Bragg to expand the use of alternatives such as treatment and restorative justice. But in a newly cramped climate for criminal justice reform, can that effort become a reality?

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Evicting Evictions

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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Reform and Its Discontents

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?

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Why Data Doesn’t Stick

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.

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Hear Pfaff on New Thinking as part of our series on Prosecutor Power

Can We Close Rikers?

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?

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The Question of Dirty Work

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.

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Hear a related New Thinking episode with Homer Venters, the former chief medical officer for NYC Jails.

Taking Reform Out of Its Comfort Zone

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?

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The Crisis on Rikers Island

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.”