New Initiative Seeks to Bridge Prosecution Empathy Gap 2019-11-26
United States is the only country in the world that sentences juveniles to life without parole. We are not only paying the price for that in terms of the mass incarceration but also the numbers of young people who were pushed into that system. I'm Tansy Nevada and today on the takeaway for November twenty six look at the empathy gap between people behind bars and those in charge of sending them away also on the show. The big business of plastic manufacturing is taking a toll on public health in the United States. The industry I'll public officials officials feel like no one is going to speak out this open space for them to just come here and police on the godfather them pick my Langan. We start with an initiative aimed at getting more empathy into our criminal justice system. Let's get going this Monday. Roughly forty progressive prosecutors across the country signed a pledge to visit prisons jails jails and juvenile detention centers and committed to have their staffs make the visits as well in large part. The initiative is attempting to close a major empathy gap advocates say. Prosecutors should see in visit the facilities in which the people they incarcerate our help closing that empathy gap was also one of the goals of last month's justice votes twenty twenty presidential town hall attendees of the Town Hall were formerly incarcerated people their family members and others who have been directly affected by our criminal justice system but only three of the Democratic candidates actually showed up to the event Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris and billionaire Thomas Dyer tens of thousands thousands of stories of personal destruction that have been caused at the hands of a criminal justice system that is patently biased. Patently Racist I patently attacking the most vulnerable people in our country. And so you can't do that. Thirty thousand foot direct. What it goes on on the ground you have to start on the ground with the people most involved because otherwise you're not gonna get all that information and nuance you need to have fair policy? I have visited many prisons. I know what has been going on in the system which is why way back when I made a very conscious decision to become a prosecutor knowing how how broken and and how in just the criminal justice system of America can be presidential candidate Julio Castro also met with incarcerated individuals at a jail in Washington in DC last month also but while some candidates are focusing on criminal justice in their campaigns. A true overhaul of the system will also require the cooperation of prosecutors. Who played a role in shaping? The charges brought against defendants and the sentences that are ultimately mm Italy handed down with us now is just in juvenile a reporter for the Washington Post covering criminal justice issues and Miriam Krinsky the executive director at fair and just just prosecution the group leading this initiative Justin. Miriam Welcome to the show. Thanks wrapping some Mariam. You are a former. US Attorney what was your own record heard visiting prisons so I really didn't avail myself of of the opportunity and and found myself in the eighties nineties caught in that mindset that that didn't understand that humanity and that human face and the consequences of what we were doing and it was only years later here when I spent five years working on investigation of conditions in prisons and jails and spent quite a bit of time inside those prison walls. Dad Dad I started to come to understand the value and the need and really the obligation of prosecutors to make that kind of journey themselves and to give have a face to the consequences of the way decisions they make Mary. WH- you know WH- people who signed up for this initiative mainly progressive prosecutors and a lot of what we're talking about here is is Empathy or lack thereof for this population. Do you think that less progressive prosecutors more conservative prosecutors people who are perhaps a little more punitive might also be interested in agreeing to visit prisons and jails. I think so and I think that we're really at the cusp of the new normal in the field of prosecution where the views of communities that they've simply had enough with the tough on crime and failed. Practices of the past is is starting to take hold and where we are seeing more prosecutors around the country. I'm from parts Large and small from coast to coast And from both sides of the political divide rally around these sorts of principles and the notion that they have to take responsibility for the justice system and for the human consequences of the decisions that they make Justin. You've been covering this issue and I'm wondering We said there about forty prosecutors across the country who signed on to this initiative. But who are some of the the standouts for you in terms of the Wave this wave of prosecutors. Who are leading this charge? Well One when one gentleman who has gotten a lot of attention recently as Chesapeake Dean and San Francisco he was just elected As the prosecutor there Wesley Bell is is the Saint. Louis County Prosecutor He gained traction and got elected in the wake of the shooting out. There Michael Brown. There's the attorney general of Vermont Mont As Mariam Krinsky says there's a really a cross section of prosecutors from across the country from all regions. And you have major city prosecutors and and you also have some small town prosecutors as well. We're seeing Justin across the country prosecutors who want to change the status quo who were labeling here at least has more progressive are they really able to implement their agendas or are they facing resistance. Well they're able to implement their agendas in some cases but they're also facing resistance We've seen a particularly police unions Push back against some of these prosecutors The race I just mentioned in San Francisco Enciso Saw The police union out there dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into the campaign to try to defeat booting their ultimately unsuccessful but but there is increasingly strident and strong pushback against these prosecutors and their policies A lot of police and a AH conservative folks feel that their policies will increase crime and make communities less safe just in twenty twenty presidential candidate Kamala Harris. Chris who herself is a former prosecutor has come under fire for that record And as Attorney General in California I wanNA play a little bit about what she had to say about why she chose to be a prosecutor over being defense attorney during the presidential debate in October. I made a decision to become a prosecutor for two reasons ends one. I've always wanted to protect people and keep them safe and second. I was born knowing about how this criminal criminal justice system in America has worked in a way that has been informed by racial bias. And I could tell you extensively about the experiences I and my family members of personally hand but I made a decision that if I was going to have the ability to reform the system I would try and do it from the inside and of course Kamala Harris Paris has come under criticism for her role as a prosecutor for more progressive voters of color in particular does what she say their mirror. A lot of of what progressive prosecutors today are saying that they want to try and change things from the inside. Yeah that's actually sort of the philosophy of it in fact a lot of the people that you see coming forward Lord to run as progressive prosecutors are former public defenders of former civil rights attorneys who have decided to forgo that line of work and actually redirect their energy towards You know winning these elections and trying to change the system from the inside. I mean the the idea is that the prosecutor is one of the most powerful actors in the criminal justice system. They have great latitude on sentencing. On what charges to pursue on whether to seek bail or do away with bill so they They the ideas that they can have a great influence over the criminal. Justice System in direct influence by taking these offices implementing more Progressive Policies Mariam for prosecutors who make a point of visiting prisons and jails Before this initiative took off or even now that at this initiative is is being signed off on. What are the tangible changes that you're looking to see in terms of how they do their work? I mean I guess you know a big part of the question is is this just a photo op to say we did it and We went in behind the gates. And we've seen what happened or is there really anything that prosecutors can get out of this That will change the way that they operate. I think there's a huge amount that they can get from it And I think you know as you described it at the outset. The notion of that empathy gap really acknowledges that there's no substitute for the human face and though seeing firsthand the consequences his of that decision to charge ought to charge to seek a mandatory minimum to put a young person Into the adult system. Really being able to have that human contact and also it's a manifestation. I think these visits of a revision of their role Taking on owning the responsibility incivility for the conditions inside the places where they send people starting to see the treatment that goes on for those who are struggling with substance Sushi or have medical problems understanding the life stories of individuals who have ended up making big mistakes but shouldn't be defined forever. Ever buy that worst mistake that they've made and also starting to own the notion that these are individuals who are coming back to our community and there's more that we have to be you doing to prepare them for reentry and to not put them on the never ending cycle in and out of the justice system too many of them find themselves on so so I think that there are a huge number of ways in which these visits can be impactful and start as well to break down the long standing culture in prosecutor's eaters offices that have led to some of the patterns that we've seen into the mass incarceration that so many of these new leaders seek to break down in terms of some of those patterns. I mean are you expecting perhaps to sentencing reform out of this. Where the idea is you know? We can't Incarcerate somebody for twenty years In cell sell that size. Are you looking to hope. That prosecutors might Advocate perhaps for more programming and rehabilitation services behind Prison Gates all of the above. And we've seen examples of that. We've Seen Stephanie Morales in Virginia. Start to advocate and create reentry reprogramming based on visits she's conducted. We've seen Dan SARREBOURG IN SEATTLE Advocate and take on the issue of needing to look for mechanisms for reviewing past decades long sentences based on what he saw and his recognition and understanding that individuals don't have to be thrown thrown away that pass choices that were made are not the choices for sentences we would make today and by virtue of that. There's a responsibility for prosecutors to go back and reopen those doors and return people to the community if they no longer need to be a sense to these facilities and kept there for decades on end Justin one of the things that's emerging in. This conversation is also the idea that some of these. These initiatives are bipartisan. At least in theory Are Are you seeing a shift in the way politicians talk about Sentencing mass incarceration. I mean we know. President trump signed the bipartisan. First step back into law Late last year yeah. There's actually been a real shift in the last several years. It's been a bipartisan shift. You've seen you know Republicans come on board with some criminal justice reform and they're making arguments for criminal justice reform from a conservative perspective. The cost of Incarcerating people and incarcerating people in the numbers that we do in the United States has skyrocketed and blown budgets so you see a lot of Republicans making arguments that we need to reduce the prison population and as a means of streamlining government budget so You know the first step acts in in other reforms that we've seen in recent years would not have come about if there wasn't a movement on both Oh sides the I'll just juvenile as a reporter for the Washington Post who covers criminal justice issues emir. Krinsky is the executive director at fair unjust US prosecution. Thank you both for joining us. Thank you on September. The Twenty eight th twenty sixteen in Townsville South Carolina. Fourteen year old. Jessie Osborne shot and killed. His father then drove to Townsville elementary school where he killed six year old Jacob Paul and wounded two other victims earlier this month Osborne. WHO's now seventeen was sentenced to juvenile to life without parole united? The United States is the only country in the world that sentences juveniles to life in prison United Nations human rights groups and many legal organizations including the American Bar Association nations have all called for an end to life without parole for children according to the ACLU there are approximately two thousand five hundred seventy inmates in the country who are currently serving life without parole sentences that they received as juveniles according to the Washington Post in the past two years. They've been h shootings at K.. Through twelve schools were underage. Gunmen killed someone. Which means that more sentences like Osbournes could soon be handed down joining me now to talk about juvenile life without parole sentences? Is Marshall Levick chief legal officer and CO founder of the Juvenile Law Center. Thanks for being with us. Marcia thank you the very complicated and The thorny issue to unpack. Let's talk about who is receiving these sentences. What's the demographic breakdown of juveniles? Who are they? The best stated that we have suggested probably about forty percent of them are men and women of color mostly African American while they're not a majority of the individuals who have received that sentence they are disproportionately represented which is what we see across our justice system given that and given the fact that we also know that there are biasi sentencing. Biopsies that show up in courtrooms when it comes to defendants of color is this conversation emerging now because many of the school shooters that we're seeing are white and male. I I want to say that issues about racism in the justice system aren't limited to sensing and I really think it's important for your listeners. To appreciate that it starts at the beginning so we do need to look at what happens if the arrests stage what happens at charging and ultimately what happens at sentencing sentencing. I think that the the concern about school shootings is also a complicated issue because as with each new school shooting I think it raises not only questions about our justice system and how we respond to them but obviously of course gun control so becomes a more complicated question but it certainly has been a piece of the motivation. I think for the very robust conversation. We're having about our justice system right now. Part of that conversation also involves criminal justice reform which we know how was essentially scuttled in nineteen ninety s Because of the Bill Clinton Crime Bill many of the programs that went into attempting to rehabilitate correct. Offender's behavior were disbanded in favor of more punitive measures. Is that part of the reason why this is emerging in the conversation conversation. Now absolutely yes And I think that we can look back now at what happened in the nineteen nineties. The perpetuation Shen at that time of the Super Predator miss something that led to the treatment of the Central Park five in the way that they were presumed guilty. And yes we are. We are not only paying the price for that. In terms of the mass incarceration but also the numbers of young people who were pushed into that system. We talk about the nature feature of a crime and how that plays into this. You mentioned that some of these were mandatory sentences which is something else? That's being discussed a lot when it comes to criminal justice reform but our courts and general less sympathetic when it comes to school shooters These are folks who generally you know are killing their child peers. In many instances we've seen shootings From elementary school through high school. Is there a sense that if it's not a mandatory sentence that that's that's part of what goes into deciding these life sentences for juvenile offenders. I think that we do have a history in this country of elevating elevating victims who are young people And certainly that includes the victims of school shooters There are many states across the country. That and post higher penalties realties where the victim is a child child sexual abuse for example. So I think that's a piece of it. We're in a difficult position with many school shootings because many of the school shooters are either killed or kill themselves so that in research terms the sample that we have is not ideal in trying to sort out what happens in those this cases and I do think that because mandatory sentencing was just abolish by the Supreme Court just about seven or eight years ago and really only made applicable bowl to all of the states in the country just a few years ago. We're still sorting out. How discretionary cents where that will lead in terms of how particular shooters with particular victims? How that will be addressed? I do want to add though that we certainly know from the death penalty of research that has been done in terms of capital sentencing. And I suspect that some of this will play out for life without parole for juvenile for children as well is that also the racist Jason Victim Matters and so while we may not see the gross disproportionality in terms of more than half for example of individuals on death ro being Men Or women of color if the victim is white that absolutely has been demonstrated to be a significant factor in sentencing. So that's something that we'll be looking for as well. We're having a conversation today on our show about empathy in the criminal justice system. and I wonder where you see. This headed this issue in particular headed in the future. If whether there's any upcoming cases or laws that could really overhaul life without parole and and really bring to to light the question of for example if someone is not sentenced to life without parole. What then do do we focus on rehabilitation or other? Some folks who are just. It's not able to be rehabilitated. I think we are seeing a shift in increasing willingness to try to hold those individuals accountable but in developmentally actually appropriate ways. And what I mean by that of course is recognizing that as teenagers adolescents. They are they are different from you and me. They're not adults. We really need to continue to ask ourselves. What is the goal of our justice system part of it is certainly public safety but it is also about rehabilitation the vast majority of individuals who go into into the justice system come home and when they come home we want them to come home in ways that they're prepared and that they're able to integrate back into their communities successfully successfully there will be some individuals who won't be able to do that and I think the Supreme Court left open the possibility that there will be particular killer? Teenagers are adolescent who overtime will simply never get to that point of demonstrating majority of showing rehabilitation and they may not get out out of prison. But I also think the court has made it clear that today in this country it is really incumbent upon us to provide opportunities for release. Marsha Lubbock is the chief legal officer in the CO founder of the Juvenile Law Center. Marsha thanks so much. Thank you from. Plastic bag bans two zero away. Cities Plastic is becoming more and more unpopular these days at least east for consumers for big oil companies. Plastic is an increasingly important source of profit and the expansion of fracking in the United States has paved the way for a renaissance in American plastics manufacturing petrochemical giants and companies like Shell and Exxon are investing tens of billions of dollars in plastics production infrastructure. As part of their strategy to ensure the fossil fuel market remains strong more than three hundred projects around the country are underway or newly completed but the communities. And he's living near those plants are suffering Sharon Levin the director of Rice Saint James an organization formed to fight a plastic plant in Louisiana testified right before the US House subcommittee on Environment and climate change last week and asked to representative for a moratorium on the oil gas and petrochemical industry in her parish. We spoke to Levine about how she got involved in the fight and what effect it's having on her community one day when I was in my classroom teaching my daughter called and told me that Mama. The governor is at Rosyth celebrating. He's approving a nine point. Four full billion dollar industry to coming to James Literally got sick in in my community is about eighty five percent black and most poor. I think the industry I'll public officials feel like no one is going to speak how they don't think anyone will rock the boat to me look like this open space for them to just come here and always enough because they know no one is. It's not knowing WHO's going to speak up and look the years that went by. No one spoke up. I never trained in the Megan years that I would be doing something like this. I don't think despite whenever Di di before I let them take my legs and my life in two thousand. Sixteen Levine was diagnosed diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis. And in the spring of this year she found out she had aluminum in her body before this happened. I didn't know the chemicals from these. Plants were caught enough to be sick. I didn't know that I thought me getting older banks happening in your body. That's what I thought in my mind I. I never associated this the chemicals that they wouldn't meeting an air. I didn't know what kind of Kim of the meeting. I didn't know what they were doing. All I knew was industries. And James Levine. Isn't the only one in the area who's gotten in sick. She says many of her neighbors have suffered from the contaminated air and water as well. We have a funeral tomorrow. Good friend of mine. He died of cancer. My near will on both sides where I live. Both of them died of cancer so many people are dying so many people have asthma so many children have to go to the doctor. Turn my grandchildren when outside and they stay outside a long period of time the skin have rashes on it. They have sinus problems. They have breathing problems. My little grandchildren have to go to the doctor. Something is always something we zoe carpenter a contributing writer for the nation. Just how how widespread this problem is. One of the things I've found is that it's mostly communities and communities of color who are Hosting these types of polluting facilities Sali's so there's a real environmental justice problem with the plastics industry. A lot of these new facilities are being planned areas like Cancer Alley in Louisiana whereas its colloquially known and for decades. This is a stretch along the Mississippi River Between Baton Rouge New Orleans that has a incredibly high high concentration of petrochemical facilities and many residents have for years reported higher rates of cancer and other illnesses that they think are related to these facilities So this plastics boom is going to bring yet more of these facilities to areas. That already have serious air and water quality issues It's also going to affect new communities. What happens After plastic is produced. How does past plastic production affect Not just The environment but also communities that affects communities all along the chain of production. The pollution concerns range from the very local to the global. All stories like the one we just heard in Louisiana show just how dangerous it can be to live in direct proximity to a plastics manufacturer but the range of negative health outcomes extends is far beyond any single location. You have communities that live near wellheads so around fracking operations that bear the brunt of pollution from those operations and then you have communities who live near the refining facilities and the cracker facilities who are then subject to air pollution from those facilities and then you have of the communities that live further down the chain who have the actual plastic waste or the incinerators. That burn plastic waste in their communities. So one of the things that I was interested in in my reporting our plans to create What would essentially be a brand new petrochemical corridor along the Ohio River Valley in Ohio Pennsylvania Vania and West Virginia? So not only. Is this pasta expansion going to affect areas that already bear a heavy burden of industry. But it's going to bring those same problems potentially essentially to new parts of the country. What role if any has congress played in all of this? Have they taken any action so far to protect communities living near these plants it currently the momentum at the federal level is pretty pro this plastics expansion in particular some members of Congress from from that Ohio River valley region and members of the trump administration are very supportive of bringing new plastics facilities to the area because they see it as a source of economic growth and aren't concerned about the environmental implications. Well then a lot of these Conversations are also framed around the debate about jobs and and resources. Can you talk a little bit about how plastic production is being talked about in regards to that debate in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania. I mean these are states they have seen a gutting of their manufacturing bases is it being positioned as as a job generator. Yes absolutely and the petrochemical industry itself Uses that and a lot of its talking points when it speaks about this new renaissance. And it's true that many of these areas where the plastics expansion is happening are economically struggling areas But many people have pointed out to me and my reporting that This is really the the same old story you where these places have always been in the grip of the boom and bust cycle that follows extractive industries whether it was coal or steel or or oil that has never ever been particularly secure economic future as we've seen With the booms and busts over over decades people are talking talking about not using plastics wchs including everything from plastic straws to single use plastics to no longer using plastic water bottles and disposable plastics. Aren't these companies going against the trend. I mean how is it that they're investing when the consumer trends at least in some parts of the country seemed to be pointing in the opposite direction. Well Oh I think. Consumer trends and public awareness are a bit different and it is true that I think there's more awareness of the need to stop using single use plastics. But that doesn't mean that People are able to do that on a scale. Big enough to actually chain should change the system at this point. I think the industry is fighting a lot of the local efforts to stop the use of single use positive bags for example And and so. I think there's a big power. A symmetry here between gene. The money in the political clout that industry has An individual consumer actions on the other hand and and so I think what activists who are working on this issue want is for the industry to have to take more responsibility for its product. So whether that's by some kind of fear tax that would then help pay for the cleanup and the the cost of recycling whether that's bans on single use plastics. There are a lot of ways to approach that But the fact of the matter is that right now only about nine percent of plastic gets recycled at best and so we have a problem both with the production of single use plastics. And with the fact that even recyclable plastics Aren't getting recycled so it's it's a pretty huge huge. Systemic problem with the industry would like to think Ken Be tackled by all of us doing a better job cleaning up our trash and so that's part of what you said earlier with their marketing thing pitches right to consumers whereas we should be Recycling can you tell us a little bit more about that you know. We've seen a lot of attention even from the industry on trash trash pickup and recycling. And they'd like us to focus on that and ignore the fact that would they're doing is pumping a lot more plastic into a system. Already can't can't keep up with the amount that's in the environment but the fact is recycling is not economically viable in many places including in the US Most of our plastic waste historically was shipped. China China no longer accepts that and so the. US itself has an A huge problem with products not getting recycled so recycling right now is not really viable option to fix this problem and so I think what many activists and academics and others who are working on this would like to see is curtailing production itself and and then of course increasing the recycling capacity but the metaphor. I uses that it focusing just on recycling trying to bail out a bathtub with a teaspoon while the tap is on full blast. There's just too much plastic being produced so Zoey. Is there any cause for optimism here. Is there any movement towards solutions. Well I think Awareness public awareness is good news and there are lots of local efforts underway in the US and elsewhere. I think what we're seeing now from the Grassroots levels really interesting where communities that previously fought somewhat disparate struggles against various aspects of the supply chain Have now united in the break from plastics movement and in other efforts and they're linking these struggles around the globe from communities who are trying hi to protect themselves from The local pollution from fracking to Communities of recyclers living overseas They now see themselves. Houses part of one movement. That's trying to Stop this problem of plastic waste And so I think that that is the good news that there is this somewhat somewhat knew and Rapidly growing movement to raise awareness and Change Policy Zoe. Carpenter is a contributing writer for the nation. Zoey thanks so much. Thank you for having me. And that's our show for today. If you have any thoughts for us you can give us a call at eight seven seven eight my take or you can reach us on twitter at the takeaway. I'm Tansy Vega this is the takeaway and thanks so much for listening take.