"On every anniversary of Gideon, liberals bemoan the state of indigent defense." On this 60th anniversary of the 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?
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?
A recent two-day training for Manhattan prosecutors was a drumbeat on the harms of incarceration, 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? New Thinking investigates.
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 of New Thinking, hear a profile of one of those efforts in Brooklyn, led by our Red Hook Community Justice Center.
Efforts to reform the justice system—including our own—often tout they're "evidence-based" or "data-driven." But at a moment when a pandemic-era spike in crime seems to have put the reform movement on its heels, New Thinking asks: why do arguments based on data rarely seem to win the day? Christina Greer and John Pfaff—two scholars working at the intersection of data and politics—explain.
New York City has committed to closing its notorious Rikers Island jail facility by 2027, a seismic shift that would 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. On a roundtable episode of New Thinking: 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, 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.
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?
On New Thinking, an audio snapshot from an emergency rally demanding immediate measures to release people from New York City’s Rikers Island jail facility. Fourteen people have died in the custody of the city’s jail system this year as the chief medical officer for NYC Jails 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 justice 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. I made my own choices, Peterson says, “but I also did not choose to experience the type of things I experienced.”