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The Appeal

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The Appeal

The Appeal

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The Appeal is a podcast, hosted by Adam Johnson, on criminal justice reform, abolition and everything in between. Each week we will feature fascinating interviews with those covering, working in, and most affected by the American criminal system; from lawyers to activists to reporters to the formerly incarcerated. The Appeal will unpack the latest efforts to shine a light on––and radically rethink––the largest prison state in the world.
 
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In 2014, then-23 year-old Morgan Godvin sold a small amount of heroin to her friend and fellow drug user Justin DeLong who subsequently overdosed and died. Morgan was charged by the federal government for “drug delivery resulting in death” and served five years in prison––despite Justin’s family pleading for leniency. Now out of prison and majoring…
 
Despite hundreds of people being put to death in the United States since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, surprisingly little data exists on who exactly is killed by the government. Two reporters at The Intercept, Jordan Smith and Liliana Segura, have spent the last three years working on filling the gap in knowledge––collect…
 
In recent years, the number of police in American schools has skyrocketed as social services have been cut. As of 2016, 1.7 million students are in schools with police officers but no counselors, 3 million students are in schools with officers but no nurses, and 10 million students are in schools with police but no social workers. This invariably h…
 
In 2018, Brittany Smith was assaulted and raped by a man in her Alabama home. Later that night, when the same man attacked both her and her brother, Smith shot and killed him in what she calls self-defense. Now she’s on trial for murder and her case tells us a lot about how our criminal legal system treats gendered violence. Today we are joined by …
 
Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) bas been the subject of countless news specials, TV drama plots, and shocking tabloid headlines––horrific tales of child abuse, quickly met with the firm justice of the state. But in recent years, medical and legal experts have begun pushing back against the conventional wisdom surrounding SBS, questioning its fundamental…
 
The only people in the United States the government is required by law to provide healthcare for are the incarcerated. But what constitutes a baseline standard of care is very much in doubt and many human rights activists and legal experts argue the healthcare, namely in states like Illinois and Louisiana, is far below any moral or constitutional s…
 
On our last episode of the year we're doing something a little different: Joining us to co-host this week is Appeal contributor Zach Siegel, who’s a journalism fellow at Northeastern University Law School’s Health in Justice Action Lab, to discuss false narratives around drug addiction and how prisons are increasingly employing puritanical pseudosc…
 
Last month, 106 legal scholars signed a brief supporting St. Louis prosecutor Kim Gardner's efforts to get a new trial for Lamar Johnson, a man convicted of murder in 1995 for a crime many––including the prosecutor's office that convicted him––say he couldn't have possibly committed. The initial trial, which involved paid witnesses who later recant…
 
To those tasked with radically reimagining the U.S. legal system and moving it away from the current carceral, hyper-punitive model, the logical question arises: What do you replace it with? It’s a fair question and one activists and thinkers have been struggling with for decades. One such person, our guest Danielle Sered of Common Justice, has bee…
 
Facing legal challenges and a shortage of drugs for lethal injections, Oklahoma was the first state to announce a plan to use nitrogen to execute prisoners on death row. Mississippi and Alabama soon followed, though none of the states has tried it yet. Critics say the science behind using nitrogen to kill people is spotty at best, and there's no wa…
 
There’s a growing acceptance of the idea that we need to overhaul our system of mass incarceration. But methods for doing so vary enormously––and some are causing more harm than good. Today’s guest, Civil Rights Corps founder Alec Karakatsanis, has written a new book, “Usual Cruelty,” that explores how even self-proclaimed “reformers” can be part o…
 
In nine states, police officers are permitted to act as prosecutors and arraign people for misdemeanor charges. In Rhode Island, the practice is the norm, meaning that thousands of people face potentially life-altering criminal charges without a public defender at their side. Advocates say allowing police to act as prosecutors presents an inherent …
 
Many states pay incarcerated workers just 20 or 30 cents per hour--and some don't pay them at all. But incarcerated workers also have virtually no labor rights or civil rights when it comes to battling discrimination based on race, religion, gender, and other protected classes. Today we are joined by journalist Sessi Kuwabara Blanchard who explains…
 
Jailhouse informants are a fixture of pop culture, helping TV prosecutors secure convictions in exchange for leniency or other favors. But the public—and by extension, juries—are largely ignorant of just how common, and how damaging, jailhouse informants are to the criminal legal system.This week, University of California, Irvine School of Law prof…
 
In addition to being unique among Western nations in executing people, the U.S. keeps many of its death row prisoners in prolonged solitary confinement, which is known to inflict physical and psychological harm. Today’s guest, Appeal staff reporter Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg, discusses advocates' push to change that practice in Oklahoma, a state who…
 
As cannabis use is legalized in more and more jurisdictions across the country, child protective systems aren't always keeping pace. Allegations of drug use are still raised in family court, particularly against parents of color, and those who admit using cannabis are often subject to heightened surveillance. We are joined today by Miriam Mack and …
 
Progressive prosecutors have swept into office across the country, winning district attorney seats in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Illinois, and beyond. But what does it mean to be a “reform prosecutor"? What is the ideology of the movement and those who lead it? To answer these questions and more, we are joined this week by Chesa Boudin, a public …
 
Earlier this year, lawmakers in New York proposed a bill that would bar people convicted of multiple sex offenses from ever using New York City’s subway system again. The plan, which would inflict a form of banishment in the name of public safety, has echoes elsewhere in the criminal legal system. Sex offender registries increasingly include childr…
 
In recent years, lawmakers and the media have dusted off the 1980’s War on Drugs script to respond to an uptick in overdoses caused by a new, potent, heroin-like substance called fentanyl. Military officials are considering classifying it as a “weapon of mass destruction,” and highly regarded media outlets like 60 Minutes have spread the fable that…
 
Approximately half a million people are currently in jail awaiting trial across the United States, the vast majority because they are unable to pay bail. A 2018 study of Philadelphia and Miami-Dade found that people being held on bail earned roughly $4,500 per year on average. Many of them will plead guilty just to get out of jail. On this week’s e…
 
Efforts to hold police accountable for violating civil rights frequently come up against a legal roadblock known as "qualified immunity." Invented by the Supreme Court in 1967 and widely expanded in 1982, qualified immunity helps public officials avoid liability for misconduct and even flagrant constitutional violations. In the Supreme Court’s own …
 
In August and September of last year, there were prison strikes in at least 17 states marked by work stoppages and hunger strikes. But what’s happened since? How have things improved or, in some cases, been made worse by the forces of reaction? As we come up on the one-year anniversary of the 2018 prison strike, our guest, Jailhouse Lawyers Speak s…
 
In an effort to meet public demand to reduce the size of the brick and mortar prison population, some jurisdictions are doing so but reinvesting manpower and money into what activists call “digital prisons.” In addition to electronic monitoring, this increasingly involves surveillance systems that can spy on citizens in real time. One such surveill…
 
Dozens of states have reformed their drug laws in recent years, but Arizona remains a stubborn outlier. In Maricopa County, for example, a recent report found that drug cases represent the "overwhelming majority" of charges filed. Up against powerful County Attorney Bill Montgomery and a culture of tough-on-crime posturing, reformers have hit roadb…
 
In April 2016, the NYPD, in concert with the FBI, ATF, DEA, and Homeland Security, descended onto the South Bronx, arresting scores of people in what was described as the largest "gang takedown" in city history. Preet Bharara, then U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, praised what became known as the Bronx 120 raid as a victory agai…
 
On this podcast––and in other coverage of the criminal legal system––we tend to focus, understandably, on the people behind bars and on parole. But in reality, this only shows part of the damage inflicted by mass incarceration. Generational harm refers to the second- and third-order negative effects of incarceration and the corresponding emotional …
 
Despite having ‎more than 35,000 officers and a massive budget of over $5 billion a year, the NYPD––and its Special Victims Unit––have a high rate of prematurely closed rape cases compared to other police departments, leading critics to accuse the NYPD of not taking sexual assault complaints seriously. Appeal contributor Meg O’Connor dug into the d…
 
Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) have exploded in popularity. In 2000, thirteen states used PDMPs; today, they exist in every state and Washington, D.C. These programs are ostensibly designed to respond to the opioid crisis by monitoring prescribed drugs and preventing abuse and doctor shopping. But increasingly, critics say, they are …
 
A recent lawsuit accused the Baltimore Police Department's homicide unit of a long pattern of questionable police work. Our guest, Appeal contributor Amelia McDonell-Parry, joins us today to discuss the case of Jerome L. Johnson, a man just released from prison after serving 30 years for a 1988 murder he didn't commit. On this week's episode, we wi…
 
For decades, the New York Police Department has arrested people, the vast majority people of color, for carrying so-called gravity knives, meant to open with a flick of the wrist. The problem is, it's not always clear what is and isn’t a gravity knife, and many workers use knives on the job. Our guest, Appeal contributor Jon Campbell, discusses the…
 
As more and more states seek to abandon cash bail, a system widely seen as unjust and discriminatory, a question has emerged: What should replace it? Increasingly, the answer involves some sort of “risk assessment”––tools designed to predict an arrestee’s likelihood of fleeing prosecution or committing another crime. They're also being used in paro…
 
In March 2018, police in Sacramento, California killed Stephon Clark, an unarmed 22-year-old, in his grandparents' backyard. A year later, District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert's announcement that charges would not be filed against the two officers responsible for his death became the latest flashpoint for the Black Lives Matter movement. This week…
 
States throughout the U.S. have recently expanded voting rights to millions of people with felony records previously barred from participating in elections. After a brief moment of celebration, two of them, Iowa and Florida, are now experiencing backlash from Republican lawmakers advocating for policies that would curtail those rights. This week, w…
 
Elected in 2017 to much fanfare from progressives, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba promised to transform Jackson, Mississippi, into the “most radical city on the planet.” But almost immediately, one of Lumumba's signature reforms—an effort to hold police more accountable for on-the-job shootings—was met with tremendous opposition. This week, we are join…
 
In the public mind, incarcerated people are often better left in the dark––unseen and unconsidered. That's especially true when it comes to prisoners with disabilities, who suffer from both the routine cruel conditions of America’s prisons and a widespread non-compliance in those prisons with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Our guest this week…
 
A primary demand of the Black Lives Matter movement is more transparency into police misconduct. When an officer improperly arrests, unduly harms, sexually assaults, or kills someone, any previous record of misconduct ought to be a matter of public record. To that end, the state of California recently passed Senate Bill 1421, legislation designed t…
 
About 1,000 people die in U.S. jails every year. But Erie County, New York, is an outlier, with 24 such deaths since Timothy Howard took over as sheriff in 2005. This week, we’re going to talk with Appeal contributor Raina Lipsitz about what's happening in Erie County and what it tells us about the broader problem of people dying in jail.…
 
As the government shutdown drags on, a number of media outlets––from NBC News to USA Today to the Washington Post––have run stories claiming that federal prisoners are eating elaborate steak dinners while prison guards go unpaid. This narrative, while obviously bogus, initially went unchallenged. This week, we are joined by two people who will help…
 
Following the Alton Sterling shooting in the summer of 2016, the national media briefly turned its attention to Baton Rouge—a city marked by a long history of segregation and racist policing. After the killing, local politicians promised reform but two-and-a-half years on there’s been little to no progress—some say the situation has only gotten wor…
 
In the past few years, criminal justice reformers have focused on city police departments and prosecutors. What might be gained from focusing on sheriffs' departments? Sheriffs wield a tremendous amount of power in our criminal justice system but largely fly under the radar. Often running on tough on crime platforms, once elected, they are largely …
 
With the swearing in of President Trump in January 2017 came an aggressive rightward shift in America’s immigration policy, specifically with regard to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Our guest, Appeal senior reporter Debbie Nathan, has been documenting how municipalities throughout the United States, especially those in deep red Texas, are pu…
 
It's been over four years since the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO and the issue of racism in the criminal legal system remains as stark and urgent as ever. Our guest, professor at American University College of Law, Appeal contributor and author, Angela J. Davis, recently edited an anthology on race and the US criminal system called 'Pol…
 
We’ve watched the scene play out in countless police dramas: slick scientific experts with the latest gadgets and technology finding the Bad Guys with forensic pattern matching: Bite marks, fingerprints, a marking on a fired bullet or handwriting on a note. But how scientific are these methods? And how much do prosecutors and judges wildly oversell…
 
“Criminal justice reform” as a general label has become trendy in recent years and, for many prospective Presidential candidates it will be a major 2020 litmus test. But what do people mean when they use the term? What are the policies being advanced and what are some of the dangers of surface-level reformist language unattached to specific, activi…
 
Most people know that the healthcare situation in the United States is one of most precarious in the world, but what’s never talked about is the status of healthcare for America’s 2.2 million incarcerated persons––which is lightyears worse. One prison in particular, Angola in Louisiana, rates at the very bottom of even this group, with mortality ra…
 
This fall, thousands of incarcerated people in dozens of states went on strike to protest harsh and exploitative conditions in America's prisons. Prisons, and the cruel conditions they foster, are often the last thing with which the public wants to be confronted about. But incarcerated people throughout the country are using the only leverage they …
 
Two pieces of news have rocked Chicago: the announcement by Mayor Rahm Emanuel that he will not seek a third term and the conviction of a white police officer, Jason Van Dyke, of the killing of a black teenager, Laquan McDonald. Both events were the result of years of activism, work that often goes unseen and unsung. This week's guest, writer Kelly…
 
The United States is alone in the world in pursuing two modes of prosecution: giving life sentences to children under 18, and giving life sentences for murder to people who never murdered anyone. Even if one doesn’t pull any trigger, or even have prior knowledge of a crime, they can be treated as if they are a murderer--if a killing occurs pursuant…
 
“Police accountability” is a term that gets thrown around a lot in conversations about criminal justice reform. But how do we make sure police officers who break laws or department rules are held to account? The reality––even four years after Ferguson––is that little progress has been made in creating structures that discipline police officers for …
 
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