Justice in America, hosted by Josie Duffy Rice and Clint Smith, is a podcast for everyone interested in criminal justice reform— from those new to the system to experts who want to know more. Each episode we cover a new criminal justice issue. We explain how it works and look at its impact on people, particularly poor people and people of color. We’ll also interview activists, practitioners, experts, journalists, organizers, and others, to learn. By the end of the episode, you’ll walk away with a better understanding of what drives mass incarceration and what can fix it.
On the last episode of Season 2, Josie and Clint discuss prison abolition with Mariame Kaba, one of the leading activists and organizers in the fight against America’s criminal legal system and a contributing editor for The Appeal. Mariame discusses her own journey into this work, provides perspective on the leaders in this space, and helps us reimagine what the future of this system could look like. Mariame’s way of thinking about this system, and the vision of possibilities she provides, is an excellent send-off to our second season. For links to resources visit theappeal.org
On this episode, we talk about an alternative to the traditional criminal adversarial process: restorative justice. Restorative justice focuses on repairing the harm caused by wrongdoing, and values reconciliation, community-involvement, and accountability over punishment and retribution. We discuss the benefits, limitations, and potential of restorative justice. We also talk to Sonya Shah, an associate professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies and a renowned restorative justice facilitator, trainer, and expert. Sonya is a survivor of child sexual abuse, and has worked extensively with survivors of sexual abuse and people who have committed sexual harm. In 2016 she founded The Ahimsa Collective, which offers non-punitive approaches to addressing and healing harm through the lenses of restorative and transformative justice. This episode also features audio from Danielle Sered, Executive Director of Common Justice. For links to resources visit theappeal.org
The pardon power is one of the strongest presidential powers in our constitution. The president alone has the ability to pardon or commute the sentence of any person convicted of a federal offense. (For those convicted of a state offense, usually it’s the governor who has that power.) But despite the fact that we imprison more people than ever, over the last few decades, presidents have been increasingly less likely to pardon people or commute sentences. On this episode, Clint and Josie discuss pardons and commutations, including some of the bizarre and fascinating decisions of presidents past. They also talk to clemency expert and NYU Law Professor Rachel Barkow about where Obama failed on this issue and the potential for a restructured process. For links to resources visit theappeal.org
In prisons across America, people are serving decades-long sentences for crimes they didn’t commit. Some face a life sentence or even the death penalty. Yet there is no hope of exoneration because technically, these people aren’t innocent. They may not be guilty as a matter of fact, but they are guilty as a matter of law. On this episode, we dissect the felony murder doctrine and explore the various ways our system transfers culpability. We also talk to Marlon Peterson, an advocate, writer, and host of the podcast DEcarcerated. Marlon became a leader on this issue after he was convicted of felony murder and spent a decade in prison. He spoke about his experience in prison and the work he’s done since his release. For resources visit theappeal.org
Today we are talking to Kim Foxx, the head prosecutor of Cook County in Illinois. Cook County, which includes 135 separate municipalities including Chicago, is the second largest county in America, and has a population bigger than 28 states. State’s Attorney Foxx was elected in 2016. She replaced Anita Alvarez, who had, to put it lightly, a disappointing record on criminal justice reform. Foxx’s election was a major victory for the criminal justice reform movement, and for progressive and racial justice organizers in Chicago. She is the first black woman to run the prosecutor’s office in Cook County. She is joining us today to discuss her past two years as state’s attorney—what’s been successful, what has been challenging, what obstacles she’s faced and how this job has changed her perspective on criminal justice reform. For links to resources visit theappeal.org.
News stories about crime are found in every local paper or evening newscast nationwide. But stories about our criminal justice system are much less common. So how does the way the media report on crime affect our perception of it? How should local and national media report on our criminal justice system? What obstacles are journalists and outlets facing? And, as a media consumer, what should you be aware of when you’re reading stories about crime and criminal justice? On this episode, we’ll be tackling all these questions and more! We talk to Wesley Lowery, National Correspondent with the Washington Post. We also have a special guest featured in this episode – Pam Colloff, from the New York Times and Pro Publica. For links to resources visit theappeal.org
Episode 14: Citizens United, Judicial Elections, and Mass Incarceration
How do judges affect mass incarceration, and what role do judicial elections play? Today we’re looking at a topic that doesn’t get a lot of attention - the relationship between judges, corporate money, big business interests, and mass incarceration. We talk to Alicia Bannon, Program Manager at the Brennan Center, about the role of Judicial Elections in mass incarceration, and how fear-mongering is used to incentivize harsh decision making.
For links to resources visit theappeal.org
America has one of the harshest juvenile justice systems on the planet and is the only country in the world that sentences children to life without parole. On this episode, we focus on America’s juvenile justice system — What it looks like, who it’s housing, and how we got here. We also interview Abd’Allah Lateef, the Pennsylvania Coordinator for the Incarcerated Children’s Advocacy Network a project of The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. He is also the co-founder of the Redemption Project and chairman of the organization Life After Life. For links to resources, please visit theappeal.org
On this episode, we explore the countless ways the criminal justice system criminalizes poverty—and homelessness in particular. From what is considered criminal to how it is punished, people that are poor or experiencing homelessness in America are punished exponentially more in our system.
We talk to Sara Totonchi, the Executive Director of the Southern Center for Human Rights.
For links to resources, please visit theappeal.org
What does it mean to be a public defender in America? Why do we have the right to counsel? And why is it important that all people have access to a zealous advocate, even those who may be guilty of serious crimes? We discuss all of this on this week’s episode.
We also talk to Jon Rapping, the founder and President of Gideon’s Promise and a leader in the field of public defense.
For more information please visit theappeal.org
For our last episode of the season, we are thrilled to have Ta-Nehisi Coates—an author and journalist who has published some of the most important and incisive work of our time, from A Case for Reparations to Between the World and Me. In 2015, Ta-Nehisi published a piece entitled Mass Incarceration and the Black Family, which looked at the history of mass incarceration and the ways it continues to devastate black communities. We talk to him about race, mass incarceration, his list of suggested reading, and the responsibility of black leaders to address systemic injustice. We’ll be back this winter with more episodes. In the meantime, keep up with us on Twitter and Facebook. If you have any questions, you can always email us at email@example.com Thank you for all your incredible support during season 1. Talk to you in a few months for season 2! For more information and resources please visit theappeal.org
Episode 9: How Democrats and Republicans Created Mass Incarceration
There are a few schools of thought regarding the origins of mass incarceration. Some blame Reagan and his” war on drugs,” while others blame Bill Clinton’s 1994 Crime Bill. Meanwhile, movies like Ava Duvernay’s 13th have drawn the direct parallels between slavery, Jim Crow, and our racist incarceration system. Each of these theories is correct, at least in part. Yes, it is undoubtedly true that mass incarceration cannot be divorced from prior systems of racial subjugation in America. And yes, Reagan and Clinton helped to perpetuate mass incarceration. But in her book From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime, our guest Elizabeth Hinton, a professor of History and African American studies at Harvard, argues that the modern roots of mass incarceration can be traced even further back, to president Lyndon B. Johnson. Johnson, a Democrat, is famous for helping usher in key Civil Rights victories, from the Voting Rights Act to the Civil Rights Act. And he spent much of his tenure fighting for low-income Americans, implementing a series of domestic policies that he called the War on Poverty. But he also pushed for harsher punishments and a larger law enforcement presence, particularly in communities of color. Under Johnson, the federal government started pouring tons of money into local law enforcement, which gave them the tools they needed to lock up millions of people. On this episode, we discuss how both parties helped perpetuate mass incarceration in the years immediately following the Civil Rights movement. We also discuss why it is that, during the 70s and 80s, black elected officials were some of the most ardent supporters of mass incarceration. Professor Hinton joins us to talk about how both Democrats and Republicans are responsible for the mass incarceration system we have today. For more information and resources please visit theappeal.org
Historically immigration law and criminal law have functioned separately. But over the past few decades, we’ve seen them slowly merge, as the criminalization of immigrants increased. Now, under Trump, that criminalization is worse than ever, and is resulting in policies like family separation. On this episode, we talk to Alida Garcia, an attorney and Vice President of Advocacy at FWD.us, about America’s shameful trend of criminalizing immigrants. For more information and resources please visit theappeal.org
Over the past few years there’s been a growing movement, led by groups like Color of Change and National People’s Action, whose goal is to elect progressive prosecutors. From Philly to Chicago, Houston to Orlando, St. Louis to Denver, we’ve seen prosecutors concerned with justice and civil liberties beat those focused only on convictions and sentences. But what does it really mean to be a progressive prosecutor? And what comes next for the movement? On this episode, Josie and Clint look at how this movement got started and talk to Rashad Robinson, the Executive Director of Color of Change. For more information, links to resources, please visit theappeal.org
Often, when people talk about the criminal justice system, they talk in big numbers— the millions of people serving time, the billions of dollars mass incarceration costs each year, the hundreds of thousands in jail at any given moment. But talking in big numbers sometimes obscures the fact that we’re discussing real people on this show—human beings, not statistics. On this episode, we discuss who these people really are and how this system affects not only their lives but the lives of their friends and family, particularly their partners and children. In particular, we explore look at how mass incarceration hurts women with loved ones involved in the system. Our guest this episode is Gina Clayton, the Executive Director of Essie Justice Group, who joins us to discuss the phenomenal organization she has built focused on women with incarcerated loved ones. For more information please visit theappeal.org.
For an estimated 6.1 million Americans with felony convictions, their punishment extends all the way to the ballot box. In 48 states, people with felony convictions are barred from voting, either temporarily or permanently. And twelve states, including Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wyoming, restrict at least some people’s voting rights—even after they have served their whole sentence, including supervised release. This episode we go into the history of what is commonly known as felon disenfranchisement. We look at the racist history of disenfranchisement laws and talk about where the laws remain especially restrictive. We also learn more about Desmond Meade, a community leader in Florida, and his fight to win a high-stakes ballot referendum in the state this November. And we talk to Norris Henderson, the Executive Director of Voices of the Experienced, or VOTE, in New Orleans. Norris is a formerly-incarcerated community leader and advocate, who played a big part in a recent effort to re-enfranchise people in Louisiana. We’ll talk to him about his experience, the uphill battle in Louisiana, and their exciting victory. For more information, please visit theappeal.org.
John Legend isn’t just one of the most talented musicians of our time—he’s also a leading activist on criminal justice reform. On this episode, Justice in America talks to Legend, singer, songwriter, actor, producer, founder of #FREEAMERICA. #FREEAMERICA is a campaign designed to change the national conversation of our country's misguided criminal justice policies. John sat down with Josie in Los Angeles, where they talked about prosecutors, bail, immigration, and more. To learn more about #FREEAMERICA, check out their website. Earlier this week, John wrote a great op-ed for The Washington Post on the racist origins of Louisiana’s non-unanimous jury system. In June, he co-wrote this piece for CNN with Color of Change Executive Director Rashad Robinson on the need to end cash bail. Here’s another op-ed he wrote on police brutality in 2014, after the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner And yet another piece by John on ending juvenile life without parole in his home state of Ohio.
Episode 3: Who Built Mass Incarceration? Prosecutors
Who has had the biggest impact on the growth of our incarceration system? It’s not the judge, the jury, or the legislator. It’s not the police, and it's certainly not the President. It’s someone else—the prosecutor. Prosecutors are getting more attention now than ever, but many people still don’t know what they do. Prosecutors don’t just play an important role at trial. It is prosecutors who recommend what bail a judge should set, prosecutors who decide whether a person should face criminal charges and what those charges should be, and prosecutors who control the plea deal process. Perhaps more than anyone else, prosecutors are responsible for our mass incarceration epidemic. On this episode, we’ll explore the impact prosecutors have and take a look at how they wield their immense power. We’ll talk about the problems with prosecutors, and their excessive power, negative incentives, and almost total lack accountability. We’ll also talk to John Pfaff, a lawyer, economist, and prosecutor expert, whose book, Locked In, examines the power of prosecutors. Want to know more? Check out theappeal.org
TV courtroom dramas would have you believe that the trial is a major part of the criminal justice process. But most defendants don’t go to trial. Instead, most defendants decide to plead guilty—even when they are innocent. What is a plea deal, exactly, and how does it function? Who negotiates a plea deal and who approves it? What are the benefits to the state? What are the benefits for defendants? And more importantly, how do plea deals reduce protections for individuals ensnared in the criminal justice system? On this episode, we’ll answer all these questions and more. We’ll also be talking to Professor Alexandra Natapoff, a law professor at University of California, Irvine, and one of the foremost experts on plea bargaining in America. For more on plea bargaining, check out our website at https://theappeal.org/topics/podcasts/
States and cities across the nation are talking about reforming the money bail system. But what does that mean? What exactly is bail? Who does it harm and who does it benefit? And does bail reform really work? On our first episode, we’re learning all we can about the bail system.
Each show we discuss a topic in the American criminal justice system and try to explain what it is and how it works.
Josie Duffy Rice: A senior strategist with The Justice Collaborative and a Senior Reporter with The Appeal. Josie is a lawyer and writer living in Atlanta.
Clint Smith: A writer, a Ph.D. student living in DC who has spent a lot of time teaching in prisons and his research is centered on putting our system of criminal justice in a larger historical context.