Across the country, judges, jurisdictions, police chiefs, public defenders, prosecutors, and allies took up the mantle of justice reform. Our forthcoming interactive report, The State of Justice Reform, cites major trends and developments during the first year of a new administration, and informs reform in a critical election year. In advance of the full report, we're spotlighting some of our favorite podcasts, books, documentaries, and social media influencers from 2017...
Addendum host Jon Cryer, along with Colin Miller and guest panelist David Harris (@dharrislawprof) of the Criminal Injustice podcast discuss Episode 3 of the Terrance Lewis Case.
When David Harris thinks back to the 2014 killing of Michael Brown, he remembers talking with a lot of reporters.
A leading authority on racial profiling and police behavior, the University of Pittsburgh law professor was accustomed to talking with the media. But following the death of the black Ferguson, Mo., teenager, the number of calls he received skyrocketed.
Reporters wanted to know, Mr. Harris said, about implicit racial bias, how grand juries work, why officer-involved shootings don’t result in more convictions, among a host of other issues.
“There’s such a thirst for knowledge on these topics,” Mr. Harris said, “I thought, there’s a real need here.”
In March 2016, Mr. Harris launched the weekly podcast “Criminal Injustice” to provide a forum to discuss criminal justice and law enforcement with practitioners and commentators from across the country.
Recorded at Pittsburgh’s NPR station, 90.5 WESA-FM, each episode focuses on a specific topic such as police body cameras, community policing, surveillance technology, DNA evidence and minimum sentencing laws. In the show’s 60th episode, released Tuesday, Mr. Harris talks with Tampa Bay Times reporter Ben Montgomery about his investigative series, “Why Cops Shoot.”
At more than 60,000 downloads a month, the podcast’s performance has exceeded Mr. Harris’ expectations.
By fostering deep yet understandable discussions, the show’s format, Mr. Harris believes, attracts a broad audience beyond the field of criminal justice.
Criminal Injustice benefits from a diverse roster of guests, including police chiefs, attorneys, journalists, authors, academics, policymakers and elected officials.
In October, the creator of the popular true-crime podcast “Serial,” Sara Koenig, spoke on the show. Other guests have included Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Jesse Eisenger; Christina Swarns, the lead attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; and Pittsburgh’s former U.S. Attorney, David Hickton.
In recent months, Mr. Harris has started to receive pitches from reporters and public figures who want to be guests on “Criminal Injustice.”
As its title suggests, the podcast often features discussions about absurdities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Mr. Harris wants listeners to recognize these complexities but also to learn about efforts underway within the system for reform.
“He's not an ideologue at all,” noted Josh Raulerson, the podcast’s co-producer and former host of WESA’s Morning Edition. “He has profound respect for people who work in law enforcement ... but is very cognizant of how these issues affect different populations.”
Mr. Harris, 59, joined Pitt’s law faculty in 2008. A former public defender, the Point Breeze resident has written extensively on police behavior and regulation, law enforcement and national security. He rose to national prominence with the publication of his 2002 book, “Profiles in Injustice: Why Racial Profiling Cannot Work,” and regularly appears in the national media.
Mr. Harris first proposed the idea for his podcast to Mr. Raulerson and WESA producer Megan Harris (no relation to Mr. Harris), who have served as co-producers for “Criminal Injustice” since it first launched. Mr. Raulerson and Ms. Harris leave the responsibility for booking guests and writing scripts to Mr. Harris.
“He’s the creative force behind the show,” Ms. Harris observed. “He brings all the passion and skills he has from academia to podcasting.”
“I think that we’ve hit on kind of a magical formula that you are going to see more of in podcasting nationally on public radio,” Mr. Raulerson said of the collaboration. “So much of Pittsburgh is people who have something that they’re passionate about or knowledgeable about but just don’t have the technical chops.”
The Pittsburgh-based company Epicast has helped to fill this gap in the local entertainment scene at least. From its location in the city’s Allentown neighborhood, the 3-year old company helps comedians to produce, distribute, and market their own podcasts. Its Pittsburgh-based podcasts include “Drinking Partners,” “Marta on the Move,” “Professor Buzzkill,” “You Can’t Handle the Truth,” “The Broadcast” and “The Cinema Psychos Show,” according to co-owner Buzzy Torek.
For the team at “Criminal Injustice,” marketing has taken on added importance as they seek to grow their audience.
WESA has helped to attract local listeners by airing condensed versions of the show’s weekly episodes during regular programming. “Criminal Injustice,” has reached a point, Mr. Raulerson said, where further expansion promises to draw grant and advertising dollars and could one day turn the podcast into a financially self-sustaining venture.
Over the last several years, interest in complex policing stories has mushroomed. The Black Lives Matter movement, as well as immigrant-justice groups, have capitalized and propelled these stories, frustrated in how criminal-justice matters were too often swept under the rug.
University of Pittsburgh professor and well-known policing expert David Harris knows this all too well. For decades, he has been a go-to source for many media outlets (including Pittsburgh City Paper) for criminal-justice stories. He has even testified before the U.S. Congress on the subject.
And with all his available knowledge and expertise, Harris wanted to bring it directly to the the public. So last year, Harris started the Criminal (In)Justice podcast with help from former and current WESA staff members Josh Raulerson and Megan Harris. The first episode aired in March 2016, and this weeks marks the 50th episode.
Harris says the podcast’s success has gone beyond his expectations.
“I think we all knew it would be fun and interesting, but we didn't realize how successful it would be,” says Harris. “I knew from all the media requests I was getting, that there was a real thirst and hunger for information about policing.”
Harris says the podcast has been steadily growing in listenership and that the success of the podcast has led sources to reach out to Harris, instead of the other way around.
"In last four to five months, people have been reaching out to me,” says Harris. “They are pitching us, which is very gratifying. There is a lot of interesting work being done. … If you listen to the same sources, then you get a sense of usual suspects, and I am really trying to avoid that.”
For future episodes, Harris expects there won’t be a shortage of issues to discuss, thanks largely to the current presidential administration that is enacting regressive strategies towards policing. For example, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has shown interest in increasing enforcement for minor drug crimes, and President Donald Trump already changed the U.S. Department of Homeland Security guidelines to make it easier to detain undocumented immigrants.
Even with this anticipated focus on the federal government, Harris says he’s “going to have to be careful not to give people Sessions fatigue,” and will also highlight some of the progressive policing policies being practiced by state and local law enforcement.
“A lot needs to change [in terms of policing] and there are a lot of people doing it, and those are the people we want to get to know,” says Harris.
Those interested can listen to the Criminal (In)Justice on its homepage at www.criminalinjusticepodcast.com.