Mandatory minimum sentencing laws took shape amid the “tough-on-crime” push of the late 1970s, making a signal contribution at the origins of our mass incarceration era. How would eliminating these laws—in whole or in part—affect the stark racial disparities in who is in prison in New York?
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.
The Tulsa County Domestic Violence Court in Oklahoma is a criminal court model that handles misdemeanor and felony domestic violence cases and coordinates with family court in an urban setting. Learn from the court and stakeholder team about this specialized domestic violence court and how it tackles offender accountability, working collaboratively, and victim safety.
Currently implemented in more than a dozen cities around the country, jail Population Review Teams (PRTs) are one strategy to reduce jail populations. Funded by the Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) and with guidance from ISLG, the Center for Court Innovation conducted a quantitative research study of the PRT model and its impacts in three sites through the spring of 2020: Lucas County, Ohio; Pima County, Arizona; and St. Louis County, Missouri.
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.
Many schools have adopted a form of restorative justice, but there are few rigorous evaluations of its effects. Our study of an ambitious project in a handful of New York City schools returned a mixed result: widespread perceptions of an improved school climate, but little movement in our primary metric—the use of suspensions. Should future researchers prioritize outcomes more aligned with restorative justice's overall goals?
Jail populations can be reduced swiftly and humanely—where the political will exists. That is the primary lesson to emerge from our study of New York City’s Early Release Program. Quickly constructed as the pandemic first hit Rikers Island in March 2020, the program helped drive the city's jail population to its lowest level in 75 years. With the curtailment of those efforts, the population has since increased by 60 percent.
Our analysis of New York City misdemeanor cases shows the system rarely results in criminal convictions but inflicts "process is punishment" effects as people experience arrest, detention, and daylong waits for brief court appearances. We also found stark racial disparities in who is prosecuted. Following from our findings, we offer statewide legislative recommendations for shrinking misdemeanor prosecution.
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.