Criminal (In)Justice

with David A. Harris

SEason 3


Episode 46


Americans who live in high-crime neighborhoods often get portrayed as anti-police, but an Urban Institute study released in February shows something different: strong respect for the law and a willingness to help with public safety.

Pittsburgh-based journalist Brentin Mock says the U.S. Justice Department has it all wrong about black citizens’ willingness to help.

"What Police and Poor Communities Really Think of Each Other," CityLab, Feb. 23, 2017

Mock also cites a recent Pew Research study that found one in five police officers frequently feel angry and frustrated on the job.

To summarize (Black Lives Matter) as anti-police bias is simplifying it. I believe that the people who engage in these marches, most of them, are marching specifically against the actions of rogue police, against overly aggressive police, overzealous police, you know, violent police. Specifically, police who are violent against people in black communities. It’s not an anti-police bias, it’s an anti-rogue police bias.
— Brentin Mock, speaking to 90.5 WESA

Episode 45


American juries are composed of 12 ordinary citizens tasked with bringing justice to the downtrodden and common sense to the law – no easy job. But who actually gets to serve? Research out of North Carolina shows some people get removed from jury pools much more often than others.

Ron Wright is the Needham Yancey Gulley Professor of Criminal Law at Wake Forest School of Law. 


Episode 44


Racial reconciliation – an attempt to speak plainly about racial strife between police and citizens of color – is a necessary step toward comprehensive police reform. It’s important, and no doubt difficult – but what does it actually look and feel like on the ground?

Aseante Hylick builds these conversations across the U.S.


Bonus: The trouble with ice detainers


Attorney General Jeff Sessions is warning local law enforcement agencies to comply with requests from federal immigration authorities to assist them in detaining people suspected of being in the country illegally -- or face consequences. But as David explains, there could also be serious consequences for communities that do comply.


Episode 43


Efforts to oversee police several decades ago resulted in hundreds of complaint review boards that investigate individual complaints. But a new type of oversight is gaining traction – one in which appointed civilians look at whole departments and how they do their jobs.

Independent police auditor Walter Katz of San Jose, California, says a police organization's investigative process is as important as its findings.

Find more about the National Association for Citizen Oversight of Law Enforcement here.

We are not an advocate for the police department and nor are we an advocate for a certain outcome, which may be favored by the public.
— Walter Katz, Independent Police Auditor, San Jose, Calif.

Bonus: What Do We Know About neil gorsuch?


David follows up on this week's Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.


Episode 42


When a group of people is given great power to watch over the rest of us, how do we make sure they use that power correctly?

Pittsburgh’s Citizen Police Review Board was created in 1997 to do just that. Its investigators weigh in on individual complaints and issue findings independent of city leadership and department administrators.

Executive Director Elizabeth Pittinger, one of the longest-serving police oversight officials in the country, said that independence gives the CPRB some insulation from political interference and public opinion.


Episode 41


President Donald Trump has called for a return to “law and order” policing and shown support for stop and frisk and heavy use of force. Many modern police leaders aren’t buying in.

One non-member, nonpartisan organization conducts field studies with real cops to find more nuanced, data-driven ways to reduce crime. Police Foundation President Jim Bueermann says scientific evidence should be the criminal justice system’s first and only guide.

Check out their 2017 report, Reducing Violent Crime in America’s Cities: An Opportunity to Lead -- co-authored with the Major Cities Chiefs Association -- here.


Bonus: march 2017 SCOTUS UPDATE

The U.S. Supreme Court delivered rulings last week on two cases involving race and jury proceedings. We break down the decisions and get analysis on their implications.

Bonus: How Wiretaps actually work

David assesses President Donald Trump's claim that his predecessor wiretapped him during the campaign. What's the legal procedure for a wiretap? Can a sitting President order one? And -- IF it actually happened -- what could we infer from a judge's decision to allow a wiretap at Trump Tower?


Episode 40


American cities all have crime and violence in some neighborhoods. People in these communities, and the police who work there, all want less crime and greater safety. So why do police and communities find themselves mistrusting each and unable to work together? How can we break out of this cycle?

Guest David Kennedy talks about the painful path to reconciliation.

You can find David’s book, Don’t Shoot: One Man, a Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America (2012), here.

And while you're at it, check out Issue Brief: Reconciliation, by the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, and Zoe Mentel, U.S. Dept. of Justice and Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, Racial Reconciliation, Truth Telling, and Police Legitimacy.


Episode 39


We hear a lot about crime trends, almost always involving homicides or felonies. But the vast majority of criminal offenses are misdemeanors. These convictions can have a major impact on employment, education, you name it - yet they are hardly studied at all.

Dr. Preeti Chauhan leads the Misdemeanor Justice Project at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She joins us to talk about the importance of misdemeanors in our system as a whole, and how her project will fill in the gaps in what we know and how we can improve the system. Read more about the project here.


Bonus: SCOTUS and racial justice

An update on the NAACP's Christina Swarns, of Episode 34, who just won a key victory with this week's U.S. Supreme Court decision in Buck v. Davis.


Episode 38


From Obama-era task forces to widespread protests, the idea of community policing has become part of our national conversation. But even if you wanted to make a difference, where would you start?

Sheriff Jerry Clayton represents 400 officers in Washtenaw County, Mich. Now in his third term, he says he started overhauling the department eight years ago with service and sustainability in mind.

You can’t arrest your way to a safer community. You can’t arrest and enforce your way to a higher quality of life in a community. You do that by working in partnership and in concert with the people that you are serving. And sometimes (police) have to be humble enough to step back, be quiet and listen to what (the community) says.
— Sheriff Jerry Clayton on Criminal Injustice

Bonus: Myths and Facts About Sanctuary Cities & Law Enforcement

President Trump says self-styled "sanctuary cities" are breaking the law. But are cities under any actual obligation to enforce federal immigration law? And is there any evidence for Trump's claim that sanctuary status is linked with higher incidence of crime? David answers these questions and explains why many local law enforcement agencies want nothing to do with immigration enforcement.




We know that the current system for police interrogation, the Reid Technique, can lead to false confessions. It’s been taught to hundreds of thousands of police officers for decades. But now there’s another way to question suspects: the PEACE method. Developed in the United Kingdom in response to terrible false confession cases there, it’s revolutionizing police questioning across the world. Will it work in the U.S. too?

Jonathan Davison works for FIS Solutions and is a Former Detective Constable in the UK and New Zealand. He says PEACE teaches police to push suspects for facts, not confessions.




Facial recognition technology is being used by police all over the U.S. using images of millions of innocent Americans. It’s a lot less accurate than what we see on TV, and it may be pointing police at a disproportionate number of minority citizens.

We explore the pluses and the dangers of facial recognition technology with Alvaro Bedoya, executive director of the Center for Privacy and Technology at  Georgetown University Law School.

He co-authored a report on the topic, The Perpetual Lineup, in October 2016. Read more about it in the New York Times here.

This has really never happened before. By tapping into all of these driver’s license photos what the FBI is doing right now is creating a national biometric network that is primarily made up of law abiding Americans. That’s a fundamental shift, and we think a problematic one.
— Alvaro Bedoya on Criminal Injustice



The largest provider of services to the mentally ill in America is not a health care provider – it is the criminal justice system. And on any given day, Chicago's Cook County Jail is actually the largest mental health institution in the entire country.

With a steady population of incarcerated persons in need of mental health services, how does one of the biggest jails in the U.S. cope? We talk to Sheriff Tom Dart of Cook County. He runs the Cook County jail, and for more than five years, he has fundamentally changed how the justice system in Chicago treats the mentally ill.

Sheriff Tom Dart runs the facility, and he's radically changed how the system in Chicago treats the mentally ill.

Get a peek inside the Cook County Jail in 2013  with 60 Minutes here.

AVID Prison Project’s report, “Locked Down and Locked Up: Segregation of Inmates with Mental Illness," found that the common prison practice of isolating an inmate -- usually referred to as "seg" -- does not decrease violence or make prisons safer. Mentally ill persons are especially vulnerable. Between 80,000 to 100,000 inmates are currently placed in small single person cells for 22 to 24 hours per day, for days, if not months or years at a time. 

In the United States, there are at least three times more seriously mentally ill persons in jails and prisons than in hospitals, according to the Treatment and Advocacy Center’s 2014 report, “More Mentally Ill Persons Are in Jails and Prisons Than Hospitals: A Survey of the States.” They used previously unpublished data from 2004-2005.

The ABA Journal profiled Sheriff Dart and his part in revolutionizing Cook County Jail in December 2016, citing the facility's photography, drumming and art classes.

“He’s the type of guy that gets ideas when he is brushing his teeth.” -Warden Nneka Jones Tapia