Cornell Law professor Joseph Margulies explains why, when asked how he can defend someone accused of horrible crimes, he no longer uses the response that most criminal defense lawyers use—that a lawyer doesn’t defend their client’s behavior but instead holds the government to its burden by zealously defending their client’s rights. Instead, Professor Margulies responds to that question that he is defending the client’s humanity against society’s impulse to reduce a defendant to their deed, imprisoning them in their past.
Cornell Law professor Joseph Margulies points out that the language we use—particularly the language we use to describe and talk with incarcerated persons—is unduly limiting and focused on a singular event to the exclusion of broader context. Professor Margulies proposes that rather than asking “What did you do?” we should ask “What happened?”—which is a wider question that wonders, with curiosity and compassion, what factors, perhaps over months, years, or even generations, brought a human being to this place.
Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies describes the ambivalence and fear many of us feel toward the “in between”—the space between where we are today and where we imagine we could be. Professor Margulies points out that if we allow it, the fear of the in between will always keep us from the world we deserve, so we must find the courage to push past the fear.
Austin Sarat—Associate Provost and Associate Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Jurisprudence & Political Science at Amherst College—argues that life sentences without the possibility of parole (LWOP) are as problematic and damaging as the death penalty. For this reason, Professor Sarat calls upon death penalty opponents to reconsider their support for LWOP sentences.
Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb discusses the four purported goals of the criminal justice system—deterrence, incapacitation, retribution, and rehabilitation—and argues that retribution may preclude rehabilitation. Colb considers whether restorative justice—wherein a victim has a conversation with the offender and talks about what he did to her and why it was wrong—might better serve the rehabilitative purpose than long prison sentences do.
Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies explains why and how a progressive prosecutor should work to correct injustice throughout the criminal justice system. Margulies argues that a prosecutor must not, for example, turn a blind eye to the prisons in her state or pursue convictions for unjust laws.
Cornell law professor Joseph Margulies describes several refreshing perspectives in the area of criminal justice reform that tackle the crucial and difficult issue of violent crime. By way of background, Margulies explains the simplistic and erroneous idea that drives the enormous (and enormously expensive) carceral state and explains the importance of recognizing humanity in order to begin to dismantle it.
Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies relates the story of one young man whose early life experiences and mistakes landed him in prison but who, after excelling in the Cornell Prison Education Program—a program in which Cornell professors teach university classes to prisoners—was released on parole after his first parole hearing and now attends Cornell University as a student. Margulies explains that this young man—Darnell Epps—may be exceptional, but he is not unique in being a person incarcerated at an early age who can redeem himself and contribute great things to our society.
Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies describes how President Donald Trump’s rhetoric on criminal justice has not actually impacted (positively or negatively) the state of criminal justice reform across the country. Margulies describes the modest progress but cautions that the most significant shifts may be taking place at a level that is not yet detectable.
Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies describes inspiring story of the "Walking School Bus" in Olneyville, the low-income, predominately Latino neighborhood on the west side of Providence, Rhode Island. The Walking School Bus is a small group of parents who walk through a set route on a specified timetable, escorting children through dangerous areas to safely arrive at their respective schools. Margulies points out that this example is but one example of the importance of recognizing the intersection public health, crime, criminal justice, and policing-all critical and interrelated components of building stronger and safer communities.
Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies continues his discussion of what he calls "pious stories" that come up in discussions of the criminal justice system, explaining why the media and policy-makers continue to repeat these stories despite their being egregiously incorrect or even dangerously incomplete. Margulies points to three characteristics common to all three of these stories: they reduce complex social processes into over-simplified parables about heroes and villains, they engender racial colonialism, and they are perpetuated by people deeply committed to criminal justice reform.
Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies describes three stories among those who study the criminal justice system that are pejoratively described as “pious.” Margulies explains what it means to be a “pious story,” why such stories exist (because simple narratives are the easiest to translate into policy), and calls upon himself and others on both the Right and Left to abandon “pious” stories and tell whole truths instead.
Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies points out that Attorney General Jeff Sessions appears poised to take criminal justice reform nationwide in the wrong direction. Margulies explains why place-based, problem-solving approaches improve community wellbeing better than saturation policing strategies like Broken Windows and Zero Tolerance.
Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies describes how implementation of “criminology of place” can improve communities without expanding the carceral state. Margulies draws upon a specific example out of Cincinnati illustrating the power of actions based on criminology of place.
Cornell Law professor Joseph Margulies explains the recent trend in criminal justice reform in Seattle to alter conditions that make a particular place criminogenic. As Margulies explains, most people and places have no involvement in criminal activity, and crime—especially violent crime—occurs at a tiny number of micro-places. Thus, the solution is not for police to view crime as widespread throughout a particular neighborhood and therefore increase police presence generally; rather, if they think of crime as confined to a small number of people and concentrated at an even smaller number of places, they can focus on working with, rather than against, communities to make them safer.
Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies responds to two of the most common criticisms of the trial and sentencing of former Stanford undergrad Brock Turner, who was convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. Margulies explains why a change to California law imposing a mandatory minimum sentence for this crime actually does not address these criticisms, and in fact exacerbates one of them.
Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies laments the revival of the “law and order” rhetoric triggered by the recent shootings in Dallas and Baton Rouge and seized upon as common ground for Donald Trump and the GOP. Margulies explains why greater police presence and more arrests actually make communities less safe, rather than safer, and argues that such changes threaten to undo the progress made in the criminal justice system over the past several decades.
Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies reacts to the lack of response by many important people and organizations to recent shootings by police of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Margulies points out that when leadership is silent on an issue, people will take to the streets to try to rectify it, often perpetuating violence.
Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies explains why a criminal conviction of police officers is neither a necessary nor sufficient component of justice. In fact, Margulies argues that those who would dismantle the carceral state should not be the first to invoke it by seeking convictions as the sole means of justice.
Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies explains how two front-end criminal justice reforms—demanding moral consistency in policing and taking addiction seriously—would significantly shrink the carceral state and make it more just.