Justice In America Season 3: Josie Duffy Rice
Zak Cheney Rice interviews host Josie Duffy Rice about season 3 of the podcast, starting Feb. 26.
The third season of Justice in America launches February 26. You can find it on Apple Podcast, Stitcher, SoundCloud, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Hosted by Josie Duffy Rice, president of The Appeal, each episode of Justice in America focuses on a different topic in the criminal justice system. Through conversation, storytelling, media, and interviews, the show sheds light on how our system functions, and the ways in which it disproportionately harms poor people and people of color.
Let’s learn some more about Josie Duffy Rice. Here she is interviewed by guest co-host, Zak Cheney Rice.
On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss
Josie Duffy Rice is a journalist and lawyer whose work is primarily focused on prosecutors, prisons, and other criminal justice issues. Currently, she is president of The Appeal, a news publication that publishes original journalism about the criminal justice system.
Josie hosts the podcast Justice in America. She is a 2020 New America Fellow, a 2019-2020 Type Media Fellow, and a Civic Media Fellow at University of Southern California’s Annenberg Innovation Lab. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Slate, and Gawker, among others.
Previously, she was a staff writer at Daily Kos, where she covered prosecutors and criminal justice. She is also the co-founder and former editor-in-chief of Seven Scribes, a website that featured essays, fiction, interviews, investigative journalism, and cultural analysis by young writers of color. Josie previously worked on voting rights and criminal justice policy at the Center for Popular Democracy.
Josie’s a graduate of Harvard Law School and received her bachelor’s degree from Columbia University. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and son.
Josie Duffy Rice: Hey everybody. I’m Josie Duffy Rice. Season three of Justice in America is just around the corner and we’re doing things a little different this time around. Clint Smith, our co-host for seasons one and two is not able to join us for this season, so I called on some truly amazing folks to join me as co-host for season three. I invited each of my new co-hosts to hang out and talk about who they are in our ten questions bonus. And this time Zak Cheney Rice, one of our co-hosts and also my husband turned the tables around on me and asked me the questions. So here we go.
Zak Cheney Rice: And now we’re here with Josie for her ten questions. Hi Jo.
Josie: Hi Zak.
Zak: I am going to ask you ten questions.
Josie: I’m super excited.
Zak: Number one, where do you live? (Laughs) Where do you live? Where are you from? It’s a two parter.
Josie: Okay. Where do I live and where am I from? I live in Atlanta with you. Same house, along with our two year old. No pets.
Zak: He lives here?
Josie: He lives in the next room. It’s pretty crazy. He really makes it hard to forget he lives here cause he’s very loud.
Zak: That’s true.
Josie: He has a lot of energy. And I’m from here too. I’m from Atlanta, which is why we moved back here. We were living in Brooklyn before this. Before that I lived in Boston but we moved back here. My family’s here. My friends are here. It’s pretty great.
Zak: Your husband’s now here.
Josie: My husband’s here. I dragged him.
Zak: Total world domination is almost complete.
Josie: That’s true.
Zak: And Josie what do you do in Atlanta? Let’s talk about your work and what you’re working on these days specifically. Any projects?
Josie: I am president of The Appeal, a news outlet that produces original journalism about the criminal justice system of which this podcast is a project of. My mom would be annoyed because I just ended a sentence on a preposition.
Zak: Yeah, and it was unnecessary because you started with “of which.”
Josie: Yeah. So of which this podcast is a project. Is that the best way to do it?
Zak: Yeah that works.
Josie: That’s cool. I’ll take it. So a lot of my work is external Appeal stuff like trying to make sure people know who we are and what we do and some internal Appeal work as well. We have an incredible editor in chief, Matt Ferner, we have incredible editors and writers, but I try to help out where I am useful and I am working on a couple of different things. I think the biggest thing I’m working on is I’m trying to write a book. It takes a lot of time I don’t have and attention that I don’t always have, but I am working on it. I am a New America Fellow, which part of my work as that is trying to write a book and I’m a Fellow with the Type Media Center, which also means the goal of that is to try to finish this book. So I am ostensibly trying to spend a fair amount of my time doing that as well.
Zak: Very exciting and I’ve witnessed firsthand some of the kind of early, early sketches of what this book could and might look like and I want to give a plug that I have no personal stake in the outcome whatsoever. (Laughs)
Josie: (Laughing) That’s true. Nothing.
Zak: There’s no income coming into this house.
Josie: At least I know you’ll buy it. That’s real love.
Zak: I’m excited to say it’s going to be arguably the best book you’ve ever read.
Josie: (Laughing) That’s kind and not true. But I appreciate your support. If you don’t think that, then nobody will think that. That’s the good news.
Zak: So can you tell us what got you interested in the criminal justice system and this work in particular?
Josie: Yeah, I think like when I was in college or even high school, I knew that I wanted to do work that dealt with systems that particularly affected people in our society that didn’t have much of a voice. And that to me was kind of vague. I think I was like education, criminal justice, like the economy. I just, I knew that I wanted to do something in the progressive public interest. Maybe that’s the best way to put it. And then I started working for the Public Defender right after I left college at the Bronx Defenders, which is one of the most incredible public defense organizations in the country. There are tons of incredible public defense organizations. So it’s definitely not the only one, but it’s a pretty prominent one. And I only worked there for like a year, a little more than a year I guess, but it changed the way I thought about everything. I mean, every day, walking by the courthouse, seeing a line of people outside, watching these public defenders go to court every day, watching the clients come in and out of the office with their children, with their families, seeing kind of the high highs and the low lows. I mean it just deeply, deeply, really shaped a lot of my outlook on the system and really kind of cemented my interest in doing this work.
Zak: Awesome. And sort of a follow up, what has had the most influence on your view of criminal justice? Talking people, books, documentaries, films.
Josie: Yeah. You know, like I would say that a lot of the people who have had a serious impact on the way I think about criminal justice have been notably women. I think Mariame Kaba has had an enormous impact on me in shaping the theory behind the work. Right? I really liked the fact that Miriame kind of presents tough questions and then posits answers in ways that you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Why didn’t I think about that?’ And she does an incredible job of that. I’m very, very grateful for the way that she’s able to shape my own personal journey in this space. I would say Marbre Stahly-Butts and I worked at our first jobs out of law school together and Marbre is truly a visionary in the way that she thinks about criminal justice and she had a major impact on the way that I thought about like what was possible. Gina Clayton, the first time I sat down with Gina Clayton, she said like thirty things and like ten minutes. That really opened up everything that I had been thinking and expanded the framework in which I was working. And then they’re just like an, you know, an enormous amount of people that really talk not just about criminal justice but about the world more generally from like Eve Ewing, I would not say criminal justice is her main focus, but I would say her work on education has had like a serious impact on the way that I think about things. Ta Nehisi Coates. Another two people who have really impacted the way that I think about the criminal justice system have been John Pfaff and David Menschel who are, I used to print out and I’ve kind of first started doing the journalism work, I would print out their tweets and like read them because they were people who were coming at this work from a different place than I was and saw things that I had not really thought about. Like forensic science as unreliable or harmless error, you know, it’s something we should think about or what do the statistics say? These are just not really ways I had looked at it. So I would say they too have had a major influence on the way I think about stuff. And, and then the last I’d say is like Desmond Meade and Norris Henderson I think are two people who are both formerly incarcerated and have been organizers around the system and come at it from a place of love and hope and thinking about the future in such an interesting way. And I have been really grateful for being able to kind of watch and learn from them in real time.
Zak: And do you have any particular memory or moment that gave you a personal connection to the system?
Josie: Yeah, I’ve written about this a little but I have a, we call him my brother. He’s not my biological brother, but a friend of mine who my parents have essentially adopted in his adulthood who has had repeated involvement with the criminal justice system in part because he suffers from addiction issues, which, you know, have followed him throughout his life. And just watching him deal with being incarcerated and then like trying to find jobs and being labeled as violent and what probation means and being called in and told he has to give his DNA. You know like it has been just such an exhausting and disappointing and upsetting process to watch him go through to deal with the criminal justice system, particularly here in Georgia where more people are under criminal supervision than anywhere else in the country. And it definitely has changed the way I see it in terms of my own personal connection to the system because he is family and to the extent that it can touch you without actually directly being me involved in the system, it feels like about as close as it gets.
Zak: Right. And is there a particular topic in the criminal justice system that is particularly interesting or important to you?
Josie: I think I said this earlier, but prosecutors. I talk about prosecutors a lot in part because like when I started working at the Public Defender’s Office, people would talk about prosecutors and I was like, I had no idea they were so powerful. I had no idea like the influence they had. I had no idea that like we voted. Really I didn’t, I had probably voted for the DA before and had no idea what I was voting for. You just didn’t really have an idea, like I didn’t have a concept. You heard about police and then you heard about prisons, but you didn’t really hear about the middle game. And so prosecutors have been the focus of my work for a long time. I’d say the other one is I have a really big interest in judicial elections, which is like a very weird niche within an already niche area. And we did an episode of it last season about judicial elections, which like we interviewed Alicia Bannon at the Brennan Center who to me, the work that Brennan Center has done on judicial elections over the years has just been so, I mean, I really, I feel like they’re celebrities in my brain and they don’t really get a lot of attention. So it’s another thing I spend a lot of time thinking about. Awesome. And where do you go for news? I go to the best website in America, theappeal.org.
Zak: I thought we were doing a reverse thing here where you’re going to say New York Magazine byline Zak Cheney Rice.
Josie: (Laughs.) I was getting there. I do, I like, I really do think that The Appeal does really great work on this. I also read The Marshall Project daily. I read a lot of criminal justice newsletters and the places I go that are outside of just criminal justice exclusive. I actually do go to New York Mag every single morning. I did that before you worked there. I think it’s like-
Zak: It’s true. She does and has.
Josie: I know and it truly has some of the best coverage in all encompassing coverage and I read a lot of New York Times. I also read a lot of people.com which I’m like not super proud of, but-
Zak: She’s proud of it.
Josie: Sometimes you gotta like, you know, step away from the fact that the world is imploding and read about what’s going on with Meghan and Harry.
Zak: Fascinating stuff.
Josie: Really, truly.
Zak: Will they make it?
Josie: They will make it, duh.
Josie: That’s not even a question.
Zak: (Chuckles) What are you reading now that’s not people.com?
Josie: What I’m reading now that’s not people.com. I’m reading, again, I read it earlier this year, I’m reading it again, On Immunity, which is this book by Eula Biss.
Zak: Oh I didn’t realize you’d already read it.
Josie: Oh yeah, it’s so good. It’s an essay book. I’m not sure who told me to read it. Maybe my book agent told me? Aliya. I really love it and it is such an interesting look at every kind of aspect of medicine, education, like how we view illness. It’s just a really fascinating, fascinating book. Highly recommend. Yeah, I think that’s like the main thing I’ve been reading lately. That sounds right.
Zak: And what do you do for fun when you’re not working? Do you have any guilty pleasures?
Josie: What do I do for fun? I hang out with you and hang out with our son.
Zak: That’s fun for you?
Josie: It is fun. You guys are the best. I really like being social. I like hanging out with my friends a lot. I read, I watch movies with you a lot. This is what I like. I like sitcoms and I like docu-series. I really like Cheer for example, which is what I’ve been watching lately. Cheer is phenomenal and it’s perfect. I know exactly when each episode is going to end, but I’m really invested in this series. Team La’Darius , Team Jerry, Team Lexi, Team Morgan. That’s everybody.
Zak: (Laughs) That’s everybody on the show.
Josie: That’s everybody, there are no bad people in the show, so everybody on the show except that one professor who’s talking about Texas politics, everybody else I’m like, really, I’m rooting for them.
Zak: What’s your favorite criminal justice movie?
Josie: My favorite criminal justice movie hands down is Legally Blonde. I’m not saying it’s the most realistic movie. I’m not saying it’s the most important. Maybe it’s neither of those two things. The day to day work of doing criminal justice work is deeply depressing. The pressure is high, the injustices are countless. So when I watch movies, I need to not be stressed out because I’m stressed out all the rest of the time and I really like romcoms. I love an ending where I don’t have to be depressed, Legally Blonde fulfills all of those. Also, she’s doing the defense work in the movie. It’s got a #metoo story. It’s got like a comeback, it’s great.
Zak: Gets rid of her ain’t shit man.
Josie: She gets rid of her ain’t shit man. So does the nail lady. She gets rid of her ain’t shit man. Also, I made a Legally Blonde, I gave the commencement speech at my law school graduation, I made a Legally Blonde joke and nobody laughed. It’s still, it’s still an outrage to me and I would just like just say that for that reason, for that reason, it’s my favorite, you know, now me and Legally Blonde are inextricably linked and I will never give it up.
Zak: I love it.
Josie: Despite it’s way too white, way too rich and way too early nineties it’s great. Or late nineties?
Zak: Late nineties, early two thousands.
Josie: Early two thousands sounds right to me. All right.
Zak: Thank you for answering my questions. It’s been a pleasure and I’m so thrilled to have you on.
Josie: Me too. Let’s go eat dinner. Thank you so much.
Josie: Please make sure to also check out our ten questions bonus for Darnell Moore, Donovan X. Ramsey, Derecka Purnell and Zak Cheney Rice. Our new season starts on February 26th so subscribe on Apple Podcasts, on Stitcher, on Google Play or wherever you listen to podcasts and find us on Facebook at Justice in America or on Twitter @Justice_Podcast. We’re looking forward to talking to you on February 26th.