In the search for meaningful criminal justice reform, are prosecutors one of the keys to change? In her new book, "Charged," journalist Emily Bazelon argues that prosecutors play an "outsize role" in mass incarceration -- from choosing the charge to setting bail to determining the plea bargain. To discuss the issue, Bazelon was joined by Stacey Abrams, a lawyer, novelist and politician who in 2018 campaigned for criminal justice reform as a candidate in a historic race for governor in Georgia.
>> You're listening to library talks from the New York public library. I'm your host Aidan Flax-Clark.
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Today on the show is Emily Bazelon. She's a staff writer for the New York Times magazine, a lecturer at Yale Law School and the cohost of Slate's Political Gabfest. Emily has a new book which is called Charged: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration. Emily was at the library recently to talk about her book and she spoke with Stacey Abrams. In addition to her historic run for Georgia Governor in 2018, she's also the former Georgia House Democratic Leader, the author of the book, Lead from the Outside and she's also the author of eight romance suspense novels under the pen name Selena Montgomery.
[ Applause ]
>> I am very excited to be here with the extraordinary, the brilliant, the talented Emily Bazelon.
>> Thank you Stacey [applause].
>> Now I have a few things on my to do list but I will tell you that I read this book in less than a day in part because it is more gripping than any television show; more insightful than most reporting. My first question for you is, have you sold the TV rights?
>> Would you like to buy them?
>> I don't have any money [laughter].
>> I don't know. Now that you've suggested someone should buy them, they're going to go like hotcakes.
>> I believe so. Talk to me, so we have an audience of people who clearly I think, have a vested interest in this conversation but for those listening, give us a thumbnail explanation for why mass incarceration matters to the average person.
>> Well here's one number that for me is so important. There are 10 million children in the country who, while the kids will have the experience of having a parent whose incarcerated, that's like this huge human cost the system is throwing off that doesn't even involve the people actually being locked up. And another statistic that I find so confounding is that there are about 70 million people with criminal records in the country. It's the same as a number of people with college degrees so, right? So when you think about just the enormity of that system and the affect that it has on people's lives, in the moment of experiencing it but then long afterward, I feel like it's pretty easy to make a case that this is an enormously important issue that just affects so many Americans.
>> What captured your imagination and made you decide that Charged was the project that you needed to undertake?
>> So years ago I was working on a story about the three strikes law in California and I interviewed conservative Republican elected district attorney in Los Angeles named Steve Cooley and he was supporting three strikes reform which was surprising. So I asked him why and he told me a story from his first year as a baby prosecutor as they are sometimes called. He said that he was in the office one day and a case file landed not on his desk but on the desk of the person who sat next to him. It was a file of a guy named Gregory Taylor. Gregory Taylor was accused of unscrewing the screen door of a food pantry at a church because he was homeless and he was hungry and he was trying to get in to get some food. But that was going to be his third strike and so Steve Cooley's colleague had decided to charge this as a third strike and Gregory Taylor in fact got a life sentence for that as his third offense. So Cooley told me this story because he thought that was crazy and that he would never have chosen to bring that prosecution in the same way and that had convinced him that three strikes reform was needed. But I just was stopped on the idea that the fact this file had landed on one person's desk and not the other person had determined the whole life outcome of Gregory Taylor and I had never thought about prosecutorial power in that breathtaking way before. But once I knew about it I started to see it everywhere and I just sort of kept thinking about this issue and then as time went on, it seemed to be the kind of power that we should really be grappling with much more than we have.
>> You take the stories of Kevin and Noura and you, it's a very finely wrought story and you didn't do what I expected which was part one/part two, his story/her story or something that was designed to sort of draw on the emotion of the reader and then savage us with the story. And instead you take their stories and you run them in parallel but you do it with this very interesting not conceit but a tool that really helps walk us through the process. Can you talk a little bit about how you came to the structure of the story and the structure of Charged as you walk us through the lives of these two defendants?
>> Yes I'd love to talk about that. I had two goals with the structure and the narrative. One was to use the story to thread through all of the points I wanted to make and to use the, you know the narrative skills of the journalist to bring issues alive that I think often just feel too dense and complicated with lots of legal jargon and confusion that just make people feel like they can't quite enter into this space. And as a legal journalist in my main roles translator and I see the storytelling as you know, absolutely essential to that. I also wanted, in very fine detail, to take you through the life of a case. And so with each of the two stories I can talk about bail because Noura never had her bail set. So what did that mean? Or at least not for a long time but Kevin actually did try to pay bill. And so I looked for the hinges in each of their stories that allow me to take you through the criminal process.
>> Without giving away the outcomes, part of what struck me was the hopefulness of the stories of these two protagonists; very much tragedy but there was a hopefulness. Why did you select two protagonists who were not from the outset just invariably doomed to their fates?
>> Yeah, I mean maybe this is my predilection or even failing as a journalist or a human being but I feel like so many stories about the criminal justice system are hopeless and that's hard to read and I wondered if it be offputting to readers in some way and then I think also as I was investigating these stories, this movement to try to elect new kinds of prosecutors grew up under my feet. I mean my book proposal was all about the evils of prosecutorial power with no particular sense of optimism. And then you know I got to throw it out along the way and pay attention to these folks. Some of them I think also know who are really trying to change how the job is done and so I think that optimism kind of fueled my sense that it was legitimate to tell stories in which the end is not hopeless because actually there is this big grassroots effort going on across the country in red states and blue states to change things.
>> Talk a little bit about your reporting and how you came to discover this movement that was growing around you.
>> So a few years ago I had a kind of glimmer of this because some people I've known for years as sources were getting together to talk about how to try to convert their interest in ending the death penalty into some kind of social movement and at the time it didn't seem particularly hopeful except that in fact, use of the death penalty was shrinking. So I did a story about that. About how much more concentrated the death penalty has become in a few counties. And then some of the people I was talking to, started talking about trying to unseat some of these district attorneys who seemed from their point of view like the worst ones; the most tough on crime, kind of thoughtless about law enforcement. And suddenly it was of interest to not only these kind of local organizing groups but also big civil rights groups like the color of change which has become you know an important force in this world I think. And then I saw the donors start to get interested. Open Philanthropy and George Soros and I thought like this is, this whole congruence of forces here that didn't exist even like two years earlier, and then I think what really made me think this mattered was in November 2016, the night that Trump was elected, there were 10 or 12 DA races across the country that went to the progressives and you know obviously that was not the big headline that night.
>> But to me it seemed tremendously consequential and this silver lining for progressives in the sense that oh, local change can still be happening.
>> Well you juxtapose Eric Gonzalez and Larry Krasner. Can you talk a little bit about the differences in their approach but also the relative strengths and weaknesses and how their thinking about this work?
>> Yeah sure. So Eric Gonzalez, a lot of people know, is the district attorney in Brooklyn. He's a career prosecutor, very much born and bred in Brooklyn. He was raised by a Puerto Rican single mom, encountered a lot of the same problems with guns and fighting and gangs on the street that a lot of the people he prosecuted encounter. He was kind of shot up the ranks when his predecessor Ken Thompson was the first African-American DA in Brooklyn was elected. Townsend needed insider in the office. Eric is uber confident. I shouldn't be referring to him by his first name but I've gotten to know him over the last two and half years. It's hard to remember. So yeah so Gonzalez kind of rises up in this office and then a tragedy happens. His boss and mentor dies of cancer suddenly and that middle of his term. Gonzalez becomes interim to DA. He's never run for anything before. I was at his office yesterday and I referred to him as a politician and he winced as if that was like not, still not his self-identity.
>> We're not all bad but go ahead.
>> No, no. I'm with you. I was surprised. He is a politician though. So he, when he was elected, didn't fire anyone quickly. I mean there are some people who've left but he basically, he did an internal survey. His prosecutors told him that they supported his vision by something like 90 percent and he really wanted to bring the office along rather than clean house and has become I think bolder in the moves that he's making. He has a lot of cultural change to make but I think because he inherited a system that was in much better shape than Philadelphia, where Larry Krasner's from, where I grew up. He's been able to be more of a kind of institutionalist. Larry Krasner came into a situation. He was an incredibly unlikely person to run for DA much less when; spent his whole career in Philadelphia suing the police department. Sued them, sued the cops 75 times and he said when he ran, like look, I'm here to shake things up. And so he got elected in the Democratic primary which you know, I shouldn't say he got elected but in Philadelphia that pretty much determines the outcome of the general election, by some really committed organizers; a different constituency, people of color, people without means. They like, they decided he was their guy and he came into office accountable to them and cleaned house. About 30 or so people in the supervisory level left. He brought in his own team including, I should say, my younger sister Dana. Always got to say that. And has much more been willing to kind of punch hard against the system, against judges against the probation and parole department in Pennsylvania and Philadelphia and he is stirring up a lot of unrest as he tries to make change. For my point of view as a journalist, this is like the best thing ever because you get, and we have other models in other cities. Kim Foxx in Chicago is also a really important figure. There're a whole bunch of them and so I think we're going to get to see in a few years which style seems to have, to be more effective. But I also think it's important to remember, these are just different contexts. These cities, their justice systems are different.
>> Should there be different justice systems based on where you live?
>> That is such a great question. I think that state and local control of the justice system is actually crucial. And maybe that's because I've become more interested in this moment where it's possible to make local change and Washington feels so stuck. But I do think there are tremendous disparities that go along with that. I mean you can speak to this in Georgia. I'm sure that you see differences in the justice system in Atlanta and other parts of Georgia. Yeah.
>> Well I guess my question is should there be, so if you look at HR1, the legislation introduced by the speaker to say that yes we have state and local execution of our voting rights but there should be a federal imprimatur that says these should be equal as much as possible. There may be a difference in how their distributed or how your right to vote is lived out, but there should be a federal standard that says no matter where you live you have the right to vote. That was the underlying idea behind motor voter. It's been part of the voting rights act. It's this notion that boundaries within our country should not determine the value of your citizenship. That doesn't work out that way but that's the theory. Do you think the same theory should apply to criminal justice?
>> I really like the idea of setting a floor across the country. I mean we could also talk about this in education. Right? I think one tricky thing about applying this idea to criminal justice is that we don't have a model that we can clearly point to like oh it's so superior in this one place. Right? Maybe this, I have to think a little bit more about this. But do you think with voting that there's a clear checklist of like, okay, you need to have access to a polling place. You need to have laws that allow for automatic voter registration. In some ways it seems to me like that would be simpler. But maybe that's only because I'm only thinking about this now that you asked a good question. [laughter]
>> Well the way I think about it, you, with voting there the essential nature of election that you should have the ability to have your voice heard but if you live in rural Alaska, it may not make sense for every polling place, you know for every community to have to have free polling places or there're ways that you execute against the intentionality that has to be done differently and accommodate the kind of community that you have and the excess that you have. I wonder if the same thing should be true for criminal justice. I mean you reference in your book, you talk about jumping turnstiles and you said look why do we send people to jail for jumping a turnstile where if you get into the HOV lane, no one comes to arrest you. It's the same basic crime.
>> I think it's a really profound question. Actually I'm still mulling it.
>> That's what I think I want to have you think aloud. But what is that about the difference besides class that says that this is a difference? Because there're parts of our community where people don't. There is no public transit so there's no turnstile jumping so that's not a law. But there is a moral equivalent to that where if you are below a certain financial threshold you could go to jail and lose your freedom and if you're above that threshold, you might get a ticket in the mail that you may or may not pay and that may or may not impact your ability to drive in the future.
>> Yeah so I was working on a piece for the Times last week and I was talking to a criminal justice reformer in Texas and he told me that there are 524,000 people every year in Texas who go to jail because they have unpaid traffic tickets. Okay, that seems nuts. It is I think crazy. But then he talked about this as jail credit and what I realized is that some of those people are choosing to go to jail because they don't have the money to pay a fine. And I remember that actually I was in court in Connecticut, my own home state, one day earlier in my book reporting when I have this notion that maybe Connecticut was like a good system and that I would go study it. That turned out to be wrong. One of the reasons I realized it was wrong was that people were choosing to go to jail rather than pay fines or even do community service because the court had no way to help them go figure out the community service. It just seemed easier to go to jail like just for a weak or a couple days. Okay, this is not what, jail's really expensive. This is not what a good use of our resources, not to mention it just seems bizarre that we put people to this choice and this is going to sound naïve maybe but I try to hold onto my capacity to be shocked if not surprised as a journalist. The way in which our criminal justice system is shot through differences because of race and class, is just is everywhere. Again, once you start looking for it, it's absolutely everywhere. So if we could figure out a way to have a federal standard beyond what we're supposed to have now from our constitutional limits which I think are sort of eroding around us and have been for a while. That will be huge.
>> So you spend a lot, I think someone's about clap for you.
>> My children. [applause]
>> No I heard. I am primed to hear the beginning of applause.
>> I like that. That's a good thing to be sensitive to.
>> So one of the extraordinary things about the way you write is that you do take these very complex legal concepts and you deconstruct them and you put them into space with these real stories so that we understand why these things are real. One of them is when you're talking through the ability for appeal to be had and the federal law that essentially holds federal judges hostage. Can you talk a little bit about why we have grown a system that no longer allows for remedy?
>> Yeah sure it'll make me remember being in law school with you when I get to give this little mini lecture. [laughter]
>> Have fun.
>> So there's a law that was passed during the Clinton presidency which Bill Clinton signed called the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act; AEDPA for short that has made it much more difficult for federal judges to overturn state court decisions in criminal cases. The idea behind this was about finality. And so the idea was that federal judges were being way too nosey and invasive, prying into the reasons the state courts reach their conclusions, that we already have a state appeals process and enough already. And to cut back on what's called habeas corpus which is basically, I love this, it's a Latin phrase obviously. It means, or one way to translate it is like, you have the body and the idea is that you're appealing directly to the prison warden outside the normal appeals process in this like one more shot at showing that you shouldn't have the body. You should be able to be free. So federal judges have more resources and they were sometimes doing more to look into the circumstances of a conviction and decide whether it was fair and constitutional than state appeals courts which tend to be much less well-resourced and do their work much more quickly. And so the federal judges were effectively cut off at the knees. They have to reach a really high standard to be able to intervene. They have to show so much deference for state court findings that it's very hard for them to overturn injustices. And this is, we've taken, the Supreme Court has in upholding AEDPA, has taken this principle to such an extent that Justice Scalia before he died, said that people had no right to be freed because they were innocent. That innocence is basically in some sense, beside the point if you've already had your process. So that's the principal operating there and it has had this dramatic effect kind of around the edges of the system or it's prevented some of the grossest injustices from being corrected.
>> Can you talk a little bit about the injustices that you discovered when you were writing; a couple of them that you frame in the book or some you didn't put into the story?
>> So one thing I think we really don't think enough about, and I hope this is a good enough, a direct enough answer, is the way in which it's incredibly hard to hold prosecutors accountable. They have enormous power. They have much more power than our system was designed for. But if one of them does you wrong and you want to sue them or the office they work for, you really can't do that. They have something called personally absolute immunity, which is a weird thing. The police don't have this. The police have this lesser, still powerful shield called qualified immunity. Absolute immunity means you're doing something in any way in the course of your job, nobody gets to sue you personally. And then in a case of really gravely unjust Supreme Court decision called Connick versus Thompson, which was decided after we went to law school, so were not like totally accountable for all the effects of it but a man named John Connick who had been wrongfully convicted, he was on death row. He was within a couple of days of being executed when finally in this last ditch effort, a paralegal working for him found evidence that exonerated him and this evidence has been hidden through his whole decades long prison sentence. I mean really just one of these stories that makes you know seize up inside. So John Connick sued over his treatment by the prosecution in New Orleans and this is one of the most, a record with perhaps, well one of the most, one of the worst records for prosecutorial abuses in the country. He won $11 million from the jury and then the Supreme Court took it all away because I said that he had not proved a pattern or practice of misconduct in office were there had been at that point, I think five instances of people coming off death row because of hidden evidence. Yeah, I don't understand that decision.
>> Another Germanic injustice that you point out just become so routine is the police system. She is nonessential character brushes important character to Noura's story; Octavia.
>> Yeah. I'm so glad [inaudible].
>> Can you talk a little bit about Octavia's story?
>> Yeah sure. So Octavia Cartwright, she is an African-American woman in Tennessee. She is a 91 year prison sentence. She received that sentence for a home invasion that she did with someone who wasn't quite her boyfriend but someone she knew from high school. It was a time when Octavia was 19 and she was struggling with the aftermath of a rape and an abusive childhood. She just had a hard time turned her boyfriend admitted that he planned the home invasion kind of persuaded her to come along. They did hurt the person who was in the house. They like to her with a telephone yeah there was some injury but not permanent injury to the victim. I don't mean to be making light of this. That's a terrible experience to go through. It must have been harrowing. But Octavia's, the male co-conspirator in the case cover deal and got a 25 year sentence. Octavia decided not to plead guilty. I think the way she talks about it, and I should say I'm only talk to her in prison, so that's like a limited set of but I talked to her a lot and she said that she just didn't believe it. She couldn't imagine that 25 years, it seemed like her whole life. How can anything be worse? But in fact things were much worse for her and this is what we think of as the child penalty. If you make the prosecutors go to trial, everybody understands that they are going to make you pay the price by asking for a very steep sentence and the judge probably go along with it because everyone assumes that plea bargains are the things that keep the oil, the wheels of the system moving; keep everything oiled. And there's such a high premium from the point of view of prosecutors and judges and often defense lawyers on plea-bargaining that nobody seemed to have blinked an eye about Octavia's 91 year sentence. And so she's applied, she's you know, run through all her appeals. She's applied for clemency from the governor. Nothing. And so she may very well be in prison for the rest of her life.
>> For hitting someone with a --
>> For hitting someone with a phone. Yeah.
>> You, you just referenced the way you're able to talk to her. Part of what is so interesting about the story you tell is how rich with detail it is. Can you talk a little bit about the process of writing this book, talking to folks getting access, trying to reach the people who don't want to talk to you because there are couple of antagonists in the book who seem to be shying away from actually providing answers?
>> Imagine that. Yeah I would love to talk about this. I mean your novelist, a mystery writer. So you know when you're trying to tell a story, the richer of level of detail, the more you're creating a world. Creating a real picture of who someone is. So nonfiction journalist, and you've also done nonfiction writing, we can't make anything up.
>> We're not supposed to.
>> Were not supposed to. yes and I live in great fear of ever being, ever getting in fact wrong much less made up. I don't have it in me. So what I try really hard to do is ask people a million questions and it means that the character, the main people I'm writing about have to be willing to talk to me a lot and hang out with me like just been a lot of time. And that's like a delicate relationship to develop with someone. You don't on the first interview announce that you basically like want to get married. And spend years with this other person and ask them to let you into their life. But in effect, that is what I need to do my work. So when I'm writing about regular people like Noura and Kevin, who were not talking to me in any professional capacity, I look for people who are good storytellers and who want to tell the story. For Noura, I came along at the right time. It took her about 10 months to decide she wanted to talk to me. I had to do a lot of writing to her in prison. But then I think after we met, she felt like she was ready to try to trust journalists. She'd been burned in the past so it was hard. With Kevin I was always on a kind of tight rope because look, I mean, he was a 20 year old Black kid from Brownsville Brooklyn and like I am White middle-age mom and there was like a limit to his willingness to let me come home with him affectively. But he is a really good describer of his world and I think there is a way in which some people, you know, shun journalists and I understand that. But some people find value in being able to tell their stories and I think the fact that I kept coming back was like big for him. So yeah.
>> One of the lines from the very beginning when Kevin says that you need guns not because you want to use them but because you have to have them. Can you talk a little bit about how that intersects with your normative view on gun violence and access to weapons in the Second Amendment; just that whole knot of conversation?
>> Yeah. I mean in some ways I think this is the aspect [inaudible] that was hardest for me to untangle and decide how I felt about it. So I've never owned a gun. I've never even held a gun. Gun control in the form of gun permits and even basic training makes total sense to me. I walked into this specialized gun court in Brooklyn which Mayor de Blasio set up in 2016 as an effort, he said, to prosecute the city's evil doers, expecting to find an effort to address gun violence that seemed like a reasonable a effort. 4 And then when I started talking to the defendants on the benches, I realized that a lot of them were young men. They were almost all African-American and none of them in this gun court actually been accused of using a gun or even like pointing it at someone. In New York there is a menu of options for prosecutors if they catch someone with a gun. The maximum charge for a loaded gun, and you can be anywhere, you can be in your house, is 3 ½ year mandatory minimum prison sentence. It's really distinct approach to dealing with guns and I thought, so then I thought well if these are the city's evil doers, these people must have long criminal records. It really was not true. I ended up looking myself through 200 files to find this out and it turned out that three quarters of the people in the gun court had not been charged with a prior gun offense. 70 percent of them had no felony conviction. They were almost all young. It was just a different population of people. So then I spent a lot of time trying to understand like why young men in Brooklyn have guns. And the word that they almost universally gave me yesterday first explanation was protection. So what I learned from listening to them and trying to understand this, so what do they mean by that? They have the idea that if someone threatens them, they cannot afford to be seen as prey. That's like going to make their lives really difficult. So they have to seem like they could be a predator and they have a notion that they have a gun or sometimes just access to the gun, frankly there are guns that don't really belong to, but if you really needed one, maybe you could get one. They have that idea. That means that in a moment where there're threatened, that gun will magically appear. Or maybe just people will know they're a person who has access to a gun and that will change their kind of profile in neighborhood. The problem of course with this is that the gun is never there in this magical moment. I'd also talked to people who told me about getting shot while they had their gun. So I both came to feel this sense that this was a defensive move for most of the people I was talking to and also that it was like supremely misguided. It wasn't actually making anyone safe because of course, guns are dangerous. But the final thing I'll say about this is that none of that convinced me that a mandatory prison sentence was the right answer because this need of protection was driven by these other circumstances of people's lives that involved, you know, their involved health, the deep healthiness of the neighborhoods they were in and yeah we were giving always this punitive response.
>> So let's talk about the antagonists in the stories, or at least for the foils for the characters. Prosecutor Weirich who only spoke to you twice or once?
>> Once yeah.
>> I tried.
>> I can imagine. Is she a good person?
>> Well, I mean she thinks of herself as a good person and she's coming from a world in which she has been rewarded for being a tough on crime prosecutor and that was the expectation when she came into office. I mean this is a tough one for me because I don't know her personally. I did talk to lots of people who know her and I think she's certainly someone who can be kind to other people. By all accounts is like a very devoted mom but she was willing to cross at the goal lines as a prosecutor and as a trial attorney before she became the elected DA in Memphis in a way that I have trouble squaring. You know so, this was true at Noura's trial but there's also a kind of pattern of not disclosing evidence in her office and I think for me the striking thing about talking to her was how defensive she was. I mean of course, like I'm a journalist for the New York Times. I'm asking these like questions that are not putting her in a good light but there's never a moment with Amy Weirich were she says, you know we really need to do things better. She says people make mistakes. Every mistake in her office is just human error and then she always has the statistics about how their thousands of cases in which people didn't hide evidence. We'll right but you're not supposed to ever have evidence not disclosed. And so that just seemed to me like a kind of punting. That's not my notion of how an elected DA should answer those kinds of questions.
>> Should DA's be elected?
>> So I would've answered no before I started working on this book therefore states in which DAs are not elected. Connecticut is one. New Jersey is one. New Jersey has this interesting centralized system for judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers and there are lots of enviable things about New Jersey system although that --
>> I'm sorry, I need you to say that again [laughter].
>> Yeah that's true. But that tends to be an unpopular. That never goes over well in New York. Everything I say but in New Jersey, I feel like everyone's eyes roll. It's actually like anti helps my argument but it's true. Having these centralized less political systems that actually work together pretty well has helped New Jersey Institute real criminal justice reform signed by the way by former Governor Chris Christie, himself a federal prosecutor. And bail reform in particular in New Jersey has brought the pretrial, the number of people who are held pretrial down by nearly 40 percent. That's like a big thing. So.
>> So how are the DAs actually put into the pool?
>> So they get chosen by the Attorney General in New Jersey. It's really to the extent nothings ever apolitical but it's distanced. No other state, I'm in Connecticut where I live is not enviable in this way despite our elected prosecutors for our own messed up reasons. And I think that, here's the thing about elected DAs. When you think about cities and suburbs, you think okay there is actually no reason why the city of Philadelphia should have a really tough on crime hard charging prosecutor in a time when crime is dropping and where two liberals [inaudible]of color having someone who wants to reduce the max incarceration is important. So in some ways Larry Krazner is this like miraculous figure and in some ways like this was waiting to happen. That is not going to be true for most of the rural counties America. The numbers are kind of interesting and strange here. So there're more than 2400 elected prosecutors across the country. If we think of trying to make all of them or many of them into progressive, reduce incarceration folks, that seems tough but, it would take only 125 new DAs to change criminal justice policy for half the population of the United States. Because if they're in the big cities then they have this huge outside influence. And because I've watched this movement to elect new DAs with such interest and it seems so promising for civil rights groups and Black Lives Matter as something they can deliver to their communities and then these DAs, they suddenly become a political force. Right? So traditionally prosecutors have lobbied for tough sentencing laws. Well what if we have a lobby of prosecutors that is giving politicians like state lawmakers, cover to rollback those policies? That's very intriguing. What you think?
>> Well I share your skepticism of appointment. Because who's making the appointment? And typically the more remote the decision-making, the more corrupt the outcome can become. And particularly if you live in a conservative state with cities you know, like Georgia and Atlanta and Savannah, what I worry about is the risk of conservative determine, a conservative person who is deciding the justice that could be allowed for a more liberal community. And so I really did want to understand. I haven't done a lot of investigation of this; whether there is a better system because part of my concern is, and the second part of my question was going to be should we elect judges? Because when you are held so, on the one hand it's the more remote the appointment or more divisive political structure of the appointment, the greater the tendency is not to reflect the needs of a community.
>> The counterpoint though is that when you are elected the public pressure to respond to a moment instead of to real data and real information is hard. People make very dumb decisions because someone else can see it. And the moment there's a bad headline all the good work, even if you can point to 50 stories or 5000 stories, it's the one bad narrative that can undermined a person's confidence in their behavior because ultimately it's a job and if you can lose your job because of a single mistake that gets picked up by newspaper, then people are going to overcompensate and try never to make any decision that could lead to that story.
>> Yeah I mean what you just raised, the bad headline, you know the Willie Horton story has been probably the most important influence in American criminal justice policy since the late 1970s. It is toxic and as a member of the media, I have to say like, this is the media pushes this and plays a real role here. And all those reasons, the Politics of Criminal Justice Policy can be as you describe them. I would argue, though that the district attorney is more like the mayor than he or she is like a judge. For this reason, there's only one in the city right which is different from a whole slate of judges where when I used to have to vote for judges in Pennsylvania, I never knew who they all were. It was just like to confusing to keep track of. Lots of people according to surveys, half the country doesn't know that they elect district attorneys. This is my single goal for my book. It's just for everybody to know. You guys, you have five of them in New York City. Every borough has its own DA. There's a really interesting race in Queens right now. So if anyone lives in Queens like go vote. That's my whole agenda.
>> Go read about them first and then do it.
>> Stacey's right about that. Go figure it out. So I like the idea of prosecutors being accountable to voters because I think that communities that care about criminal justice can actually have an enormous impact and were seeing that in these elections. I will say though in a sense, the jury is out and the question's going to be, do people like Kim Fox and Larry Krasner and Satana Deberry in Durham? There're a whole cast them across the country. Can they get reelected? And we're seeing this interesting question right now in Chicago with Kim Foxx. The police are very angry with her about the Jussie Smullett case but you know it could be that the people who elected her are going to reelect her despite that and if that happens that will be a kind of sea change in thinking about prosecutorial elections for me.
>> Restorative justice. You tell this lovely story about how it helped save a person's life. Can you talk a little bit about that story and what you think about the potential of restorative justice in our society?
>> Yeah. So the story I tell in the book is from Florida from a Republican conservative prosecutor named Melissa Nelson who came in as a reformer and she inherited this very tricky death penalty case in which a young woman had been tragically murdered. Clear who the perpetrator was. He was a young man, who was like on drugs at the time, had a terrible, terribly abusive childhood. The victim's mother, a brave woman I think named Darlene Farah had worked out her own grief by getting, investigating the background for daughter's killer and had decided early on that she opposed the death penalty for him. That it was deeply important to her that this man who had been raised in bad state homes not be killed by the state. That's her thinking about it. So when her daughter was murdered the previous district attorney Angela Corey who is one of the most hard charging prosecutors in the country, was involved in the Travon Martin botched prosecution, Angela Corey said I'm bringing the death penalty anyway. Became a big election issue. Melissa Nelson came into office and Darlene Farah said, I want you to accept a life sentence for James Rhodes, the defendant instead of the death penalty and Melissa Nelson was very willing to do that. What made her much more nervous was Darlene's second request. She wanted to meet James Rhodes and talk to him. And everyone was I think basically terrified of this encounter like what would it really mean? James Rhodes is a person you know, relatively low IQ. Like, was it even fair to him to put him in this situation. So I was not there for this meeting. There was no way that a journalist was going to come into this room but by all accounts, I mean I haven't spoken to Rhodes directly but his lawyer and Darlene and her lawyer and the prosecutors, it was this incredibly moving and meaningful encounter. And look, this is a distinct situation in which the mother of the victim had fought very long and hard about wanting this connection but it gives me enormous hope for these restorative processes. In part because, when you ask victims about their experience with the criminal justice system, they are almost always tell you how betrayed and kind of riven they were by the experience. They're, it's confusing. They're often not informed about the, it's just really difficult and I also wonder and this may be a little pie in the sky of me but for a lot of people, is it really punishment and retribution that will make them feel whole? Or is there a way in which having a kind of reckoning from the person who created harm might help them much more? In Brooklyn you have a really interesting small restorative justice program call Common Justice. The head of the Daniel Serab [assumed spelling] also has a book out which I recommend and that program and some other small programs across the country are really trying to test this premise. Unfortunately this tends to happen around the edges of the system as opposed to being more an organic part of it and I do think there should be more energy around changing that.
>> Do we have an actual justice system?
>> No, I mean I think we have in most of the country still, an injustice system in which the system is doing much more harm than good and it's very hard to justify how it works and I think that conclusion is not especially controversial and it bipartisan. You know, your state of Georgia after many years of harsher and harsher sentencing laws, started to roll back under the previous governor. I don't know if this governor --
>> He does not believe in criminal justice reform.
>> -- right. So that's right which is you know, one reason why other Republican conservatives have agreed with criminal justice reform is that we're just spending so much money and even if you just think of it in this kind of calculated economic terms about return on investment. When you see the rates of re-offending of people coming out of jail and prison and going right back in, you think what is this? Even if we just are thinking about that and from the community safety consequences. There's a term that's been running around criminal justice reform circles that I kind of like even though its dargoney. This is idea that, which has their support for this, that jail and prison are criminagenic. It's like carcinogenic. You know, cigarettes cause cancer. Jail and prison cause more jail and prison.
>> Yeah. So you use this line. You said that it's these islands of mercy in the sea of cages. Do you foresee given what's happening, do you believe that there is actually a time where the car then landmasses will take over the sea and the cages will sink? It's a terrible expansion on your analogy but --
>> I mean that is the critical question. There are starting to be district attorney's, and Eric Gonzalez is actually one of, who are talking this game. Talking about jail and prison as the last resort click Rachel Rollins in Boston is another interesting example of this. If they can succeed then I think they create models for others to follow. And in a sense if you think of the system as a whole and misdemeanor offenses which cause all kinds of problems for people, but mostly don't New York lead to getting locked up, then you can kind of see a way forward. That in fact there is some already purchased for the idea that jail and prison is not always the answer. The problem I think is that while there is increasing consensus, you know we just saw Donald Trump sign a criminal justice reform bill with great fanfare. There's increasing consenus about nonviolent offenders. Right? My folks in Texas with their unpaid traffic tickets, the fair the subway jumping turnstile people, nonviolent drug offenders. The problem is that the majority of people in jail and prison right now have been convicted or pled guilty, I really should say, of violent offense. Now that does not mean that they are all murderers or rapists. It means that some of them like Kevin, had a gun; in New York, serious violent felony. It means that they swiped someone purse or iPhone; robbery too, violent felony in most states. It can mean that they committed breaking and entering into a dwelling and no one was home; serious violent felony. So until we redefine violent crime, I think that we're going to be having the dynamic of many more cages. But I think if we can start to see our way toward reckoning with the fences, which they're not good, but is jail and prison really the right answer for that behavior? That's the big next leap for the criminal justice system.
>> Okay, so you're in charge of the world. [inaudible] Tada!
>> Thank you. Give me the five things you would do to create a true justice system.
>> So I think first of all we have to redefine how we think about public safety. We've been for a long time linking public safety to tougher sentences and to law enforcement and seeing law enforcement as the way in which we prevent and address crime. So in fact there's lots of research that the most effective ways to prevent crime are making communities and neighborhoods stronger. So I like this example which comes from a sociologist in Chicago named Robert Sampson. So you have a vacant lot in a poor neighborhood, and some community group decides to come in and clean it up and turn it into a playground. Well now you have kids out there and so they're going to be some grown-ups keeping an eye out for them and you're going to have to foot traffic. And suddenly you have a neighborhood that's working better. Support of like the opposite of the broken windows theory. You don't use the police to clean it up. You try to make things vibrant from within a community and those kinds of interventions actually you can show cause and effect with the murder rate in a particular neighborhood or place. So I want to just change, just for a minute, just like set aside the courts and the police in this conversation and just think about the idea of turning safety into a value that we associate with the help of communities and also with trust in law enforcement. See I brought them back a little too quickly. But there is a lot of evidence when people see the law as legitimate and they trust the system, they are more likely to abide by the law and to value it and to help the police solve crimes and to show up as witnesses in court. Nationally we solve only 60% of the murders in this country. Now those are the serious violent crimes that are providing or causing this huge public safety threat and we've created a system in which people don't want to show up as cooperating witnesses. In part, because they have no faith that they will be treated well or that the system means well. So I think that is just this huge shift; not so much about don't prosecute but how to make not the don'ts but the dos I guess.
>> Should they close Rikers?
>> Yes. They should close Rikers [applause] and look, I mean, I think, you guys are a receptive crowd, I like that but I think there's really consensus around this in New York because Rikers is one of the most violent prison, I should say jail facilities in the country and because it is so much associated with bad outcomes for people. And you know, New York, the Rikers population is coming down and the criminal justice reform bill that just passed in New York is going to bring it down further. The big next step is going to be that in order to close Rikers, some people are going to have to have some kind of lock up facilities in their backyards and that ground has not been broken on those facilities. That's going to be a big challenge. That's what the close Riker folks are the most concerned about right now. I'm just going to say, I live in the eity of New Haven. We have a jail, a big juvenile detention facility and adult jail in New Haven. It's on Whaley Avenue --
>> I know it well.
>> -- which Stacy may remember. People drive by it all the time. It is no big deal. So you might want to think about that if the jail, no jail in my backyard movement comes to your streets.
>> So do you, is it the elimination of Rikers as a symbol or is it that we should start downsizing our capacity to incarcerate?
>> We should downsize. If we close facilities then we are changing the numbers game. And there's this weird set of incentives. So this is a little wonky but I'm going to hope you guys will go with it for me, with me. So local prosecutors, their counties are billed when they send someone to jail but that's not true when they send someone to prison. At that point, the state picks up the bill. So it's as if prison is like a free lunch for your local judge or prosecutor. That is a bad set of incentives. So when you talk about funding for the prison industrial complex, you have to think about the incentives there. If there are fewer prison beds, there are fewer places for people to get this free lunch. This metaphor is like sort of failing but --
>> It's okay. This is a safe space for bad metaphors. It's okay.
>> I've got to work this one out. But in any case, I think that is the way in which you can really change the dynamic but obviously there are huge forces on the other side of this. Right? Because you have you know prison guard unions, you have whole towns in rural parts of the country that in which the prison or jail is the major source of jobs and economic development and that is a terrible problem we've created. But the answers not to keep them all open. It's to do something better.
>> One of the other narratives that sort of weaves through in particularly in Noura's story and you talk about it with the plea deals but I'd love for you to go into a little more detail. Is this notion that the only way to save your life is to lie? To lie about what the truth of the moment was but that it's the only way and part of it plays out with Octavia but I think Noura's the more acute example of what this can look like. Can you talk a little bit about that?
>> Yeah sure so we know that 18 percent of the exonerations in the last generation have involved people who pled guilty. Now that seems like a really confounding fact and I think for a lot of it, for a lot of us it feels unimaginable. How could you ever admit to a crime especially a terrible crime, if you didn't commit it? But what happens is that people are facing these enormous sentences that this trial penalty that makes rolling the dice on their innocence, feel like a kind of pipe dream. You know Noura in particular when the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned her conviction, that was a little spoiler, but there's more to her story. She was still in jail and she had to decide whether to go and have another trial in front of a judgment who had made it very, very clear that he believed, I would say passionately that she was guilty. She was not even granted a bond hearing for I think yeah it went well for like 9 or 10 months after her conviction was overturned. And I think there're, that people trade some measure of self-respect honestly for freedom. Hard for me to judge. I will tell you that Noura feels tremendous regret about that decision for a number of reasons. Things just didn't work out the way she wanted and I think people understand afterward that this guilty plea is going to dog them for the rest of their lives and I suppose my answer would be that the limitless plea-bargaining that we have in this country where prosecutor can threaten any sentence including the death penalty in order to induce a guilty plea, that the Supreme Court made a big mistake when it didn't set some kind of constitutional limit on that threat.
>> So we talked about what to do to reduce the time on the incarceration side. What is the prescription for the prosecution side? We're not going to eliminate elections. What are we going to do?
>> Right. I mean I think that we have to turn cities with new DAs and incredible energy for reform into models. One of the most hopeful things I see happening are these organizations called court watch. You guys heard of court watch in New York? All right. So this is a model that I think started here and is starting to spread where regular citizens are going to court just watching the proceedings. And then if they see something they don't like, if they see someone with you know, bail because they stole a bar of soap who was going to jail or there's all kinds of conduct. Once you show up, it's kind of shocking. Honestly, regular criminal court is shocking if you can understand what's going on; which I often have trouble because it's so jargony and not really a public space in a proper sense. Those organizations have a lot of impact. The districts attorneys in New York, they see those Twitter accounts and they see people pushing back and it creates a counter pressure against the sort of Willy Horton narrative. That you can also get in trouble for being unmerciful. It's a really interesting kind of citizen action that I hope we see more of. So that's one kind of way of keeping prosecutors accountable.
>> What about, would you eliminate absolute immunity?
>> Oh absolutely.
>> Yeah. Now that is another really I think clear wrong term and actually I mean that decision, it's called inblur [assumed spelling], it's from the 1970s and the author of that decision, I think it's Potter Stewart but I can't quite remember. I have a Potter Stewart, Lewis Powell, they're like interchangeable to me. It's very bad. They're both like sort of in the middle-ish. One of them wrote that opinion and said that it, prosecutors didn't need to be sued because if they were corrupt, if they hid evidence they would be prosecuted themselves or the Bar, our profession or at least sort of, for both of us our honorary profession, that the Bar would discipline them and they would have their Bar cards taken away and that loss of their professional livelihood would be a threat. Neither of those things have happened. As far as I know, there're two prosecutors who gone to jail for a couple of days each for prosecutorial misconduct like ever in the whole country for serious wrongful convictions. And the Bar disciplinary committees have really not wanted to play this role. New York has a very new prosecutorial misconduct commission which unfortunately in my view, the State District Attorneys Association has sued to prevent from going into operation. But it's a really interesting idea to try to take this responsibility for policing prosecutorial misconduct away from the bar. You know my kind of close-up view of this in Memphis was that when I was watching a prosecutorial misconduct, it was called trial was in front of the Bar Grievance Committee. It was all local lawyers. They all knew each other. It's really hard to sit in judgment of you know someone who's effectively like a colleague of yours.
>> Was this Jones?
>> Yes. Exactly, yes.
>> So my younger sister, I'm the daughter of, my mom was a librarian, my dad was a shipyard worker and they eventually became ministers but my parents were always civil rights activists, social justice warriors. One day my younger sister Leslie who went to Yale after me and I think around the same time as you, came home and announced that she was becoming a prosecutor.
>> Oh I do know this story.
>> You think you're surprised. We were, now mind you, we also have this younger brother that I've talked about who has made us all very familiar with the criminal justice system from the inside and we just couldn't understand and Leslie said something similar to what you reference in the book which is that we need good prosecutors. That a Black woman who understood the system because she'd watched her brother, she'd helped her brother navigate it; that you had to have people like that on the inside. Should there be better incentives to encourage more prosecutors? Not just the reformers but how should we think about the prosecutorial pipeline? Who comes into the system?
>> That is such a great question. So your sister, did she decide to be a prosecutor?
>> Oh she worked for the, she was an assistant US Attorney. Now she's a judge.
>> I didn't realize. I forgot.
>> We're very afraid of her so [laughter].
>> So you know, it is crucial that people like your sister go into prosecutor's offices. This is a controversial thing to say. Still, there is this really interesting Law Review article from a number of years ago which asks the question. Can you be a good prosecutor and be a good person? And the author of that article, Abbe Smith at Georgetown, the answer was no. I feel, I mean look, my sister Dana I told you, is in Larry Krasner's office. Having an experience perhaps like your sister's, look, given how much power prosecutors have, it seems like utter folly to me to imagine that we shouldn't encourage people with high ethical standards who are committed to using resources well, who see the minister of justice part of the job is fundamental. It's just like handing over the reins of the system to people who do not have those values. For me, that seems like a clear answer. At the same time, I do not think I would want my kids or my siblings to go work for every single prosecutor in this country. Individual discretion at the baby prosecutor or even more supervisory level only goes so far. It really depends on the office you're in, like so many jobs.
>> Well Leslie worked for Sally Yates so it was okay.
>> Yeah. That's different.
>> Okay. So audience questions. Emily Bazelon, do you think the problems with prosecutorial overreach are in any way a consequence of poor ethics education in American law schools?
>> Yeah well I think, American law schools just don't teach any of this. I mean all the things that I knew I was talking about hopefully tonight, I didn't learn about any of those cases in law school. I think a teeny bit about it but that's it. And it's not that car is not that I didn't take criminal law because I did. I took criminal law and criminal procedure but I think law schools, law schools are, they're trying to do so many things at once. You come out as a generalist not particularly trained to in a specific way for some part of the profession. I actually think in some ways the less selective law schools do a better job of this because they train more state prosecutors and defense lawyers and government lawyers in general and so there's a more practical element to the education. But as a rule, I do not think law schools are doing anything like what they should to be educating people on these issues.
>> Can you talk about the impact of the Trump administration's judicial appointments on the appeals process? Take all the time you need [laughter].
>> Well things are going great in Washington. Things are going great in Washington if you've decided as Senator McConnell has that making sure you get all your judicial appointees through is the main legacy that you want to leave the senate with. And that, that is going to be this long term way to entrench your party's power and this is absolutely...McConnell made this move in terms of blocking Merrick Garland's appointment which I'm sure people here are familiar with that seemed like it was going to be politically toxic and in fact had no bad consequences for him or his party what so ever at the polls. So what are we seeing here? We're seeing conservatives being, for decades, much more aware of the power of the courts and of the judiciary than Democrats. There has just been a kind of complacency on the part of liberals. Because there is bipartisan consensus emerging on criminal justice reform, some of Trumps appointees may be down for some of the same kinds of changes that we would see and maybe that this issue is one that's able to move forward across the political spectrum. But in general when you have a deeply conservation engine like the Federalists Society vetting judges, you have a judiciary that moves ideologically to the right.
>> I think you talk about this. I think the gentleman's name is KeKe but can you discuss how immigration enforcement feeds mass incarceration?
>> Yeah, absolutely. So we've had a system in this country where if you, it's a little non-specific but any kind of charge that is above a low level misdemeanor, makes you much more eligible for detention and deportation. This was an approach that started under the Obama administration. I mean the idea really was to kind of deport the criminals. Like let's start with them. Sounds fine except when you realize that it's starting to filter out. It's starting to catch lots of people who committed low level as well as medium level offences sometimes years earlier and it really kind of ebbed during the Obama administration toward the end. But Trump has absolutely brought it back into bearing. I mean, this administration is looking for people to detain and deport for home that is an easier process. The courts have made it easier to detain and deport people with any kind of criminal record and if you can say that you're deporting the criminal immigrants, they become even less sympathetic. So it's a great talking point. There are some individual DAs including Eric Gonzalez in Brooklyn was I think the first person to do this, who said that they're going to start looking at charging in a way that can spare people from detention and deportation. So prospectively, it's something that DAs can have some control over; retroactively, not so much.
>> What are your thoughts on people going to prison for technical probation violations and not for actually committing a new crime?
>> I think it is like one of the worst things that we're doing as a system. I'm working on a podcast that's a kind of companion to my book because I wanted to do even more reporting and one of the stories in the podcast involves a young man who went to Rikers on a technical violation and I don't want to give too much away but it had a profound impact on him and he was 12 days away from finishing a five year term of parole. He got in trouble for traveling out of state to attend a children's defense fund conference. So the notion that this person is a threat to safety in any way just seems so questionable. I will confess, I knew nothing about how parole and probation worked until this happened in the middle of my podcast reporting. And I learned that in New York, there actually, you can either violate someone, that's what it's called, and incarcerate them for an infraction or you can nothing. There's actually no middle ground. So you all have a bill that is kind of percolating out there called the less is more bill that would change that and I welcome people learning more about that bill.
>> As we look for ways to level set, tell them your thoughts on federal sentencing guidelines.
>> So federal sentencing guidelines come from the 1980s. They were a product and large part of Ted Kennedy's office. Justice Breyer worked on them when he was a staffer. And the idea was that the criminal justice system was too arbitrary and that we were punishing different people based on their backgrounds; that there was racial disparity. That was definitely true and that way to do deal with this was to routinize sentencing. So you have a big grid and if someone had this kind of criminal record in this offense you will plug them into the grid and give them a sentence and it will be much more consistent. Was supposed to be all about fairness and consistency. The problem was that the guidelines ratcheted up the sentences from almost everybody. They were part of the crime wave response I would argue over, responsive 1980s and Sully had the effect of creating these much longer sentences. They came in line. They were a form of mandatory sentence sentencing; a kind straitjacket for judges. The goal of sentencing guidelines toward consistency is an excellent goal. The problem is proportionality. Often and this is happening the states to, guidelines in the name of consistency, everybody goes up. And if everybody goes up then you just created a lot more prison.
>> Yep. Okay because you are a reporter as well as a lawyer and a writer and mother and just an awesome person, this question is for me and you will ask me.
>> Oh I'm so excited! Right. Let's just acknowledge for a moment. I want to use this as an excuse to say a huge thank you to you for doing this event with me. It made me like, right?
[ Applause ]
It's pretty much my favorite thing so far about publishing my book in just a single event my two sons were interested in attending. They are here. This is awesome.
>> So Eli, Simon stand up [applause].
>> And they are here only because of you, not me. I don't want to know how many other people that is true of. Don't tell me.
>> It's not true at all.
>> I need to ask you this question. For Stacy Abrams, a question about leadership. I recently learned that you are a big Star Trek TNG fan. But, that Kathryn Janeway is your favorite Captain, can you talk about the strengths and weaknesses of Picard and Janeway's leadership styles and what you admire about them? Yes you can.
>> Thank you.
>> I know you can do that.
>> Yesterday I was talking about Yertle the Turtle, okay. So for those who are uninitiated to the Star Trek universe, there's the next generation and the captain of the Enterprise is Jean-Luc Picard. There you go. He is, so you have the original Star Trek but for the new Star Trek, Captain Picard is the quintessential Captain. He is someone who is thoughtful. He has a very strong moral code. His leadership style is a combination of Socratic Method and modeling behavior. He confronts difficult situations but always with a very clear eye to what justice should look like. And in leading his crew, he creates space for them to make mistakes but he holds them to this very high moral standard. Kathryn Janeway is the captain of Voyager; a ship that is thrown out of the sort of normative universe of Star Trek. She's on her own. She doesn't have the sort of trappings of the Federation around her which Picard has. She's got to figure out how to get home and she's got to jury rig some stuff to get there. And so what's exciting about her leadership is that it is easier to be a good person when you are surrounded by people who remind you to be good. It is easier to hold yourself accountable to standards when those standards are reinforced by your surroundings. She is isolated from all of the things that she was trained to rely and her partner is someone who's a rebel. I love Kathryn Janeway because she so deeply flawed in some ways. She makes grotesque mistakes at times. But they're driven by heart of good but also with the ability to reform and she confronts her own weaknesses and fallibility not by ignoring it but by talking about it and creating opportunities for those around her to be flawed. And I think for me, she is my favorite Captain because she's a bad ass woman but also because she meets the challenges head-on and she does so by still holding to the truth of the code that she has sworn to uphold but recognizing that she has to adapt to the space she's in. But that you have to lose yourself to be successful. So [inaudible]
[ Applause ]
>> She sounds like a good model.
>> I really love Star Trek.
>> That's awesome.
>> Okay. What are results progressives should be targeting, crime reduction or more equitable applications of justice?
>> Well I think we have to start with equitable applications of justice and the idea, let's go back to this principle of proportionality which unfortunately has basically no purchase in constitutional law right now but is so fundamental to how we should think about justice and goes back to so many of the things we touched on about whether poor people are punished differently from rich people. You know whether we think about people who've swiped an iPhone on the street as the same as murderers or really pretty different. All these questions I think kind of come up in this way. And when you think of the system as having proportionality as its goal, I think of a lot of other things kind of come with that that will allow you to have the kind of yardstick where you can judge the prosecutor or judge the system. The problem with always looking at reducing crime is that then you can only have less incarceration as long as crime continues to fall. That is maybe a political reality but we are so far, and one way to think about this is that in New York City you have crime levels now that are like 1955. But you have incarceration levels that are stuck in the late 1980s. And so when you think how much farther we have to go, I find it worrisome that falling crime is going to be the only thing that allows this to continue. Here's another sort of daunting fact according to the sentencing project. So America has started little by little to shrink its prison and jail population but the graph is like this and according to the sentencing project if we continue at our current pace, it will take us 75 years to cut the numbers in half. That's longer than my life. I hope not yours.
>> We're the same age [laughter].
>> It's true. It's true. I know but you know. I like the idea of you floating around out there for a very long time. In any case, I think that's the problem with seeing reducing crime as the only goal. I would like to see communities also hold their prosecutors accountable to reducing incarceration to other measures of community well-being. How people feel about living in their communities, etc.
>> Well on behalf of this audience I have one last question for you. Would you consent to becoming our Empress of Justice?
>> Only if you get to appoint me.
>> Please help me thank author, think thought leader and extraordinary woman, Emily Bazalon.
>> Thank you.
[ Applause ]
>> That was Emily Bazelon talking about her new book with Stacey Abrams and the title of that book again is Charged: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration. If you live in New York you have a New York public library card, you can check Charged out from one of our many locations and I encourage you to do so. Library Talks is produced by Schuyler Swenson with editorial support from Richert Schnorr and myself and our theme music was composed by Allison Layton-Brown.