Imagining Prison Abolition

Imagine a world that is more just, laws that are more compassionate and people being freer.

Georgetown Law professor and author Paul Butler is very familiar with the U.S. criminal justice system. As a former prosecutor, he once fought for long sentences. Now he’s advocating for the abolition of prisons. While that sounds extreme, in this talk he explores what would replace prisons, how people who cause harm could be dealt with in the absence of incarceration, and why abolition would make everyone safer and our society more just.

Incarceration is a relatively recent development in the history of punishment, with the first modern prison constructed in Philadelphia in the early 1800s. The American penitentiary was intended as a reform, making the institution of punishment more humane and rehabilitative. Because the United States now locks up more people than almost any country in the history of the world, this nation is perhaps the best laboratory to assess the success of the experiment. By virtually any measure, prisons have not worked. They are sites of cruelty, dehumanization, and violence, as well as subordination by race, class, and gender. Prisons traumatize virtually all who come into contact with them. Is there a better way? He posits that 50% of the prison population could be released and we would feel no effect.

Butler frequently consults on issues of race and criminal justice. He feels the system is broken and advocates for non-violent drug offenders to receive treatment rather than punishment. Abolition of prison could be the ultimate reform. Butler is not saying there should be no consequences for criminality. He calls it gradual decarceration and looks at ways to accomplish the goals of prison more effectively.

Butler is a Professor in Law at Georgetown. His most recent book Chokehold: Policing Black Men, published in July 2017, was named one of the 50 best non-fiction books of 2017 by The Washington Post. The New York Times described Chokehold as the best book on criminal justice reform since The New Jim Crow. It was a finalist for the 2018 NAACP Image Award for best non-fiction.

Watch — Prison Abolition, and a Mule with Paul Butler

Why School Integration Works

They are some of the most ambitious education programs of the 20th century – school desegregation, school finance reform, and Head Start. Today, many view these initiatives as failures, but professor Rucker C. Johnson of UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy disagrees. He and a team of researchers combed through data from over four decades to figure out the true impact of these programs. Their findings are detailed alongside compelling stories of real people in Johnson’s new book, Children of the Dream: Why School Integration Works. Recently, Johnson sat down with Goldman School Dean Henry E. Brady to discuss the book and his research.

Johnson and his colleagues used big data and new techniques to look at the wide-ranging impacts of school desegregation. They tracked everything from high school graduation rates, to employment, wages and health. Thanks to the uneven implementation of desegregation, Johnson was able to compare children who grew up in similar environments, but experienced different levels of desegregation. He found a big part of the positive impact came from how desegregation affected access to class resources, after school programs, quality teachers, and smaller class sizes. And, the longer a student spent in desegregated schools, the greater the impact. In fact, the achievement gap between white and black students closed faster following desegregation than at any other time in American history.

Unfortunately, the United States has moved away from integration. Today, many schools and classrooms are heavily divided along racial lines. Opponents of desegregation appear to have won. But, Johnson says there is still hope. He lays out the case for making integration a priority once again, using data to prove its effectiveness. He also delves into school finance reform and Head Start, showing how sustained investment in education is the surest way to change children’s lives for the better.

Watch The Success of Integrating Schools with Rucker Johnson — In the Living Room with Henry E. Brady

Criminal Justice and the Latinx Community

The criminal justice system’s impact on Latina and Latino people in Southern California and across the nation was the focus of the annual UCLA Law Review symposium at the UCLA School of Law. Featuring leading scholars and practitioners who work to uncover and combat the ways in which bias affects Latinx communities’ interactions with law enforcement, panelists addressed incarceration, policing, community organizing and criminal adjudication, plus related issues involving ethics and capital punishment.

UCLA Law professor emeritus Gerald López delivered the event’s keynote address. He captivated the crowd with reflections on his childhood in East Los Angeles in the 1950s, where he watched the criminal justice system target Latinx people — activity that, he noted, continues to this day.

“It left impressions on me that shape everything I do,” he said while encouraging budding attorneys and activists to continue his lifelong effort to respond to those challenges and “change the world.”

Browse more programs in Latinx Communities, Race, and the Criminal Justice System

When 911 Calls are Motivated by Race

You’ve probably seen the videos online recently – someone calls the police on a person of color for seemingly no reason. Maybe it’s a group of families having a barbecue, teens at a public pool, or a college student who fell asleep on campus. Incidents like these are getting more attention thanks in part to social media and the nicknames given to callers like BBQ Becky or Cornerstore Caroline. Andrea Headley studies these situations and other aspects of police accountability in her work at UC Berkeley.

It’s called profiling by proxy. It happens when someone calls police based on their own biases or prejudice. While many make light of these situations online, they can potentially have serious consequences. Headley notes, you never know how someone will react when confronted by officers. That person might have inherent fear of law enforcement due to previous encounters, or the officers might hold some of the same biases as the caller. A situation that starts out as a minor call has the potential to escalate quickly.

So, what’s the solution? Some might suggest the easy fix is for police to assess the situation, realize the call is unfounded, admonish the caller and move on. But, Headley says that response ignores the complicated and often tense relationship between communities of color and police. It also takes responsibility away from the caller. Headley says the best way to stop these calls is for people to ask themselves tough questions about their own biases, and have conversations with family and friends to get the root of why this is happening. She says there is a role for policy when it comes to how 911 dispatchers interpret calls and relay information to officers, but that’s not the first line of defense.

Watch Police Accountability and Profiling by Proxy with Andrea Headley — In the Arena with Jonathan Stein — UC Public Policy Channel

Truth as a Common Good

8232The usually humorous Robert Reich gets serious in this talk about how the fog of “alternative facts” and other falsehoods coming from the White House are threatening the democratic institutions that make America great, a view he shares with other Democrats and prominent Republicans alike. The former Labor Secretary gives a fascinating overview of the economic forces that led to the election of Donald Trump and offers a path forward for those inspired to engage in public life.

Check him out on the UC Public Policy Channel.