Lawyers, Here’s a New Criminal Justice Series to Add to Your Reading List

We’ve got a lot of prisoners in the United States — nearly a quarter of all the prisoners in the world. Yet, despite such a high incarceration rate, the actual workings of the criminal justice system occur largely outside the public’s awareness.

In an effort to shed light on a system “shrouded in secrecy,” Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project and Slate magazine are launching “Trials and Error,” an ongoing series focused on “the reality of the justice system, and how to fix it.”

Check Out “Trials and Errors”

With legal documents, research, blogs, the president’s Twitter feed — who needs more to read, right? Not most of us. But, here are some reasons you might want to add “Trials and Errors” to your reading list.

First, the partners. The Fair Punishment Project is a joint initiative between Harvard Law’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice and HLS’s Criminal Justice Institute. Its work includes litigation, education, and outreach around excessive punishment, overzealous prosecutors, racial bias, and more, all aimed to “create a fair and accountable justice system.” Slate is a left-leaning online publication. Founded in 1996, it was one of the first serious online magazines on the internet.

The two not-so-unlikely-bedfellows have come together to create “Trials and Errors,” which Slate’s editorial director Josh Levin says will “will attempt to illustrate the reality of the justice system via thorough, fair, and accurate investigative journalism and policy analysis” and “dig into messy and complex stories that lay bare the truth about how the American criminal justice system operates and how its rules are implemented.”

The project has already produced two interesting, worthwhile pieces. In one, the Fair Punishment Project’s Jessica Pishko looks at the potential resurgence in executions in Texas (who knew they’d declined?) under a new district attorney in Dallas, Faith Johnson, the county’s first black, female D.A.

In the other, Daniel Denvir explores the “false promise of sanctuary cities.” Sanctuary cities, those cities such as San Francisco and New York that decline to allow their police force to be used for immigration enforcement, have been widely celebrated among liberals following President Trump’s immigration crackdown. “But for many immigrants,” Denvir writes, “such protections mean nothing at all” as local prosecution for minor crimes can mean quick entry into the “deportation pipeline.”

These are well-researched, thought-out pieces, exploring often overlooked aspects of the criminal justice system. Still, the series might not be for everyone. If you’re uninterested in criminal justice at all, these pieces may not speak to you. If you think the current system is already too soft on crime, you may find yourself rejecting some of the foundational assumptions of the articles. But if you’re curious about how our current system works, where it fails, and how it may be improved, “Trials and Errors” is worth checking out.

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