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The Appeal Podcast Episode 1: District Attorneys Are The Most Powerful People You’ve Never Heard Of

With Josie Duffy Rice, senior staff reporter at The Appeal.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim FoxxTwitter

District attorneys wield enormous power but have been historically overlooked in efforts to reform the legal system. Recently that has changed, with the rise of a bail reform movement and new primary election challenges upending the “tough on crime” status quo. Our guest Josie Duffy Rice, the host of our sister podcast “Justice in America,” will be joining us to explain why DAs are such an important—and often unseen—fulcrum of power.

The Appeal is available on iTunes, Soundcloud and LibSyn RSS. You can also check us out on Twitter.


Adam Johnson: Hi, welcome to The Appeal. I’m your host, Adam Johnson. This is a new podcast on criminal justice reform, abolition and everything in between. Just to orient you a little bit this is a new podcast project that’s launched in concert with The Appeal magazine, an online magazine that deals with criminal justice reform, prisons, prosecutors and similar related topics. It’s a journalistic endeavor that aims to shine a light on the undercovered aspects of criminal justice in prisons and I’m super excited to work on their podcast. The general format is basically going to be Q&A. I’m going to center the guest and what they’re working on. I want to thank you so much for those who have joined us on this pilot episode. Today we’ll be joined by Josie Duffy Rice, a senior lawyer at Fair Punishment Project, contributing writer to its sister publication The Appeal and host of the upcoming podcast Justice In America, which she will host with Clint Smith.

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Josie Duffy Rice: You know prosecutors have a direct and consistent impact on people in communities, um, day to day. They make decisions that if they’re not impacting you directly they’re probably impacting some of your family or some of your friends and if they’re not impacting anybody you know, you are living a life unlike most people in America.

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Adam: Joining us now is Josie Duffy Rice. Thank you so much for coming on.

Josie Duffy Rice: Thank you so much for having me.

Adam: So we are co-starting these podcasts together. Mine’s going to be more Q&A. Yours is going to be more technical. I’m super excited to have you on as the first guest as kind of a soft launch for your project. Before we start, I want you to talk a little bit about The Appeal and what its goals are moving forward and what your specific role is in that capacity.

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Josie Duffy Rice: Sure. So The Appeal was first known as Injustice Today and we started last summer. And the purpose of, what is now known as The Appeal, was to provide a new source of criminal justice journalism to the public. The reason that we thought that The Appeal was necessary is because criminal justice issues do get a fair amount of attention, not enough, but some in mainstream media, but often that attention is focused on the wrong aspects of the criminal justice system or perhaps the aspects of the criminal justice system that don’t have as much of an impact as some of the others that were getting less attention. Um, my examples for that are: you read a lot of stories about innocence and you read a lot of stories about private prisons, both of which matter. They’re not irrelevant and they deserve some attention. But when you take away the innocent people, right? Quote unquote “innocent people” or you take away the private prisons; we still have an incarceration crisis in this country.

Adam: Right.

Josie Duffy Rice: We still have a criminal justice system that is massively bloated. And what else is happening that deserves attention, so that was one of the reasons that we wanted to start The Appeal. Um, and a lot of the work that we do there focuses on prosecutors. Because of that reason we didn’t think that prosecutors were getting the attention that they require in order to hold them accountable as public servants and elected officials and, you know, powerful people. Just more generally.

Adam: Can you Josie tell us a little bit about what your and Clint’s new project is and what listeners can expect to hear from your podcast?

Josie Duffy Rice: Absolutely. So Clint Smith and I are starting a podcast called Justice In America. Clint is a poet, a Ph.D. candidate, he has a lot of experience on criminal justice issues, particularly education in the jail and prison system. And we’re starting a podcast on criminal justice issues that we want to do. Two things basically, one is to really explain how these issues work and how they operate. Um, we’re starting with bail and we’ll also be covering immigration, voting rights, prison conditions, etcetera. Because we’ve noticed and we, I’m sure you’ve noticed too, that so many people care about these issues and maybe have a cursory understanding of them but don’t actually really understand how they work. So one part of it is making sure that we are explaining to our audience how the system functions and the other part is providing some different perspectives on these issues. On possible solutions, on who’s impacted and how and featuring some of the people we know from organizers to policy people to people who do direct representation for people in prison and jail to provide that perspective and give the audience a little bit more context for how the system functions.

Adam: Great. I’m looking forward to that very much as I imagine many of our listeners are. So first things first, which is both you and I and the broader The Appeal project, prioritize and focus on prosecutors and district attorneys. Um, I want to sort of set the table for those who are listening who maybe not totally intimate with why they’re important. Can we sort of talk a little bit about the broader nature of district attorneys? What percent are elected, what percent are appointed and why The Appeal and you specifically have put such a focus on prosecutors as an entry point into meaningful reform as opposed to what you describe as a kind of surface level or fringe case reform efforts.

Josie Duffy Rice: There are 2300 prosecutors in America and that’s on the state level, the local level, um, the federal level is a different beast, and also it deserves attention, but most of our attention goes to local prosecutors. Those are 2300 elected prosecutors, obviously, many more assistant prosecutors in those offices and I couldn’t tell you the exact percent that are elected, but in every state other than New Jersey and Connecticut, they elect at least some of their prosecutors, usually all of them.

Adam: Right.

Josie Duffy Rice: You know prosecutors have a direct and consistent impact on people in communities, um, day to day. They make decisions that if they’re not impacting you directly they’re probably impacting some of your family or some of your friends and if they’re not impacting anybody you know, you’re living a life unlike most people in America. They serve this purpose of holding people “responsible,” quote unquote, for the crimes that they have allegedly committed. Um, and they have an immense amount of power and traditionally have been never really held accountable, especially in comparison to the power they have. So the equation that I always spell out is that prosecutors have excessive power, they have bad incentives a lot of the time and they have very little accountability. And if you combine those three things, you have a monster. Now what we’re seeing is that people are talking more about prosecutors over the past two or three years than ever before. They’re getting more attention from journalists, you know, more questions are being asked and we’re seeing a different kind of prosecutor pop up in elections. And I do think in some ways the window is shifting, right?

Adam: Right.

Josie Duffy Rice: But traditionally prosecutors have run on a tough-on-crime platform. They’ve made thousands and thousands and thousands of decisions without any scrutiny or accountability. And you know they’ve changed the entire fabric of neighborhoods. They’re directly responsible for mass incarceration. They’re not the only people responsible for mass incarceration, but they’re certainly a large part of it. And they are directly responsible for, in some ways, the quality of life that people of color especially and poor people are living in America. So in our heads, it just was time to give them some more attention. Right? Police have long gotten attention, prisons have long gotten attention and again, not enough, but at least someone has been paying attention to those issues for longer than two years. But the middleman, the prosecutor, was getting nothing for decades and in our head it’s time to change that.

Adam: Yeah. So the general idea is that, and this is the, you know, the sort of way it was explained to me, and for our listeners, of what the broader project is, is that there’s just (a) too many people in prison incarcerated, um, there’s too many arrows in the quiver of prosecutors to put people in prison and when they are imprisoned they are put in prison for a very long time that we have a general sort of overly punitive and carceral state apparatus where there’s basically no incentive to be quote unquote “soft-on-crime.” And the easiest position with which to demagogue that and the easiest position with which to enforce that punitive ethos is in the DA or prosecutor level.

Josie Duffy Rice: Right. You know, I think we look at the criminal justice system in a similar way as people think about climate change. Mass incarceration is real and people like to frame that as an opinion, but it’s only an opinion to the extent that, you know, climate change is real is an opinion. It might be an opinion, but it’s right. The facts bear it out. Um, reality bears it out. And for so many people in America their day-to-day lives are controlled by the criminal justice system and prosecutors were kind of acting with impunity even when we were trying to hold other parts of the system accountable. And so that was part of the thinking behind creating The Appeal.

Adam: Yeah. Because the general, I mean, you know, you have a country where the president goes around condemning countries for political prisoners when the US has the largest prison population in the world by a factor of 2, 3, 4X, depending on the country.

Josie Duffy Rice: Right.

Adam: Obviously people have heard the stat, twenty five percent of the world’s prison population, but five percent of the population, which is a pretty staggering statistic when you actually break down the numbers.

Josie Duffy Rice: Right.

Adam: And these aren’t of course just numbers, these are people with lives, families. There’s another element to which I think is super interesting about The Appeal, which is, which is one of the reasons I joined is that there’s a idea that it’s not just about prisons, it’s also there’s another side of the coin, which is surveillance and monitoring-

Josie Duffy Rice: Yes.

Adam: And basically putting people on the grid and where I think other kind of reformist efforts have failed and the reason why I don’t like a lot of reformist efforts personally, to editorialize here, is that they omit this altogether, that there’s this idea of probation, parole and monitoring. Can you talk a little bit about the movement towards that and how that can sometimes serve as a sort of pseudo solution for this problem?

Josie Duffy Rice: I think that unless you really get in the weeds and you really think critically about what you want, it’s very easy to create solutions in the criminal justice system that feel like solutions, but actually are just perpetuating the same problem. So, you know, I think there are too many people serving too long sentences in prison right now. I think that having them out on parole or probation is in some ways an improvement and looks much more like an improvement than it is. Part of the reason for that, is like you mentioned, it requires just immense levels of surveillance. Often it requires a lot of money to kind of keep people monitored but not in prison. And then I think that the third thing is that it’s still requiring something from people that shouldn’t be involved in the system a lot of the time. Probation and parole are very easy to violate, right?

Adam: Yes.

Josie Duffy Rice: They often end up getting people back in the system for many more years than they maybe would have had going in for the first time. We see constantly stories of people accidentally violating their parole or probation or a miscommunication landing someone back in prison or not having the $300 you need that month to pay your fee and then you’re back in the system. And so all of it still requires people to be tangled in the system, right?

Adam: Right.

Josie Duffy Rice: All of it: prison, probation, jail, parole. Um, all of this still means that the system has its tentacles around you and what we’re trying to figure out, I think as a community, is how do we stop that? How do we kind of stem the tide of criminal justice involvement, you know, its ubiquity among so many people in this country?

Adam: There is a lot of overlap in terms of a lot of these organizations, from the bail reform organizations to even some of the grassroots attempts to elect people like Larry Krasner, is that there’s just too many people in the system.

Josie Duffy Rice: Right.

Adam: And that if you reduce the pie, as it were, that how the pie is allocated becomes, is a little less important than that. I know that, for example, you mentioned the sort of temptation of probation. I, back in my more checkered days, I would always have, I had a guy who would always tell me if you can choose between one year in prison or five years probation, you always take the one year, which seems shocking to me. But the argument is that they will always find a way to put you in prison.

Josie Duffy Rice: Yes.

Adam: They’ll sort of find ways of doing it, even if they can’t.

Josie Duffy Rice: Yes.

Adam: And so I do want to move to the topic of efforts to actually win DA-ships for more reform or even more radical people on the district attorney level. So you have people like Larry Krasner in Philadelphia, uh, you have people like Kim Foxx in Chicago. Can we talk about efforts that, the efforts that have been made, without, of course, campaigning for or lobbying for anyone, um, the efforts to, to actually move the needle and even some people who I consider to be radicals have kind of praised some of the things that have been done. Is this a realistic or useful avenue for actually changing the system? Or is it a bit of a siren song in your opinion?

Josie Duffy Rice: About three years ago I started working for Daily Kos where I was covering prosecutors and at the time, I mean I was exclusively covering prosecutors and I’m not sure how many people even do that at this point, but at the time they just weren’t getting a ton of attention. That was in 2015. And in that time, since from then to now, it’s just been really crazy to see how many prosecutors have run on a platform of being less punitive and more progressive than their opponents or the incumbent, and won. It’s a, it’s a shocking amount of wins. And I do think it matters. You know, having a progressive DA can have a serious impact on people’s lives.

Adam: Yes.

Josie Duffy Rice: They can implement office policies that materially affect the lives of people. That can reverberate to other law enforcement sectors in that place. They can ask for less prison time, less jail time, shorter sentences. They can categorically refuse to ask for bail for some crimes. These are major things that they can do. I think there are a couple things to keep in mind. One is that like there’s no one answer to this problem, right? If we elect 2300 progressive DAs tomorrow, we’re going to see a different criminal justice system, but it will still have fundamental problems, right?

Adam: Right.

Josie Duffy Rice: The prisons will probably still be bad. Even if there are less people in them, they’ll still be inhumane. It doesn’t mean that we’ll have better police. Although, again, I do think that a progressive prosecutor can influence a police department in some ways. So it doesn’t solve everything, but it can alleviate a lot of the harms that we see. I think that being said, there are still some major roadblocks that we’re facing even among progressive DAs. You know, there’s an entire community of people who work to get these people elected. Um, we’re not part of that community, but we, like everybody else can see it from, from afar. And what you’re, what you see is grassroots groups, progressive funders. You see an entire infrastructure being built around getting progressive DAs elected. The problem with accountability, right, is what you do once they’re in office.

Adam: Yeah.

Josie Duffy Rice: Um, and the reason it’s hard sometimes to keep them completely accountable is because these elected DAs aren’t actually the ones in the courtroom, you know, those are the assistant DAs. And so they can implement policies or suggestions or guidelines but it’s other people who are actually making the decisions day to day. And these offices often see hundreds of thousands of cases a year. I mean Chicago sees literally almost half a million cases a year. I mean, just think about that number. You know 400,000 misdemeanors a year in Chicago. So how do you monitor what everybody’s doing all the time? How do you make sure that nobody is asking for something outrageous or punishing someone inordinately or how do you make sure that all 700 DAs are being, you know, are thinking about racial equality or keeping in mind someone’s income level when they make decisions? You can’t really. And so in some ways it’s very different than trying to hold another elected official accountable where you want to see the legislation they supported or you know, what they wrote or voted for. This is kind of a constant process that requires attention from people in the community nonstop.

Adam: Right.

Josie Duffy Rice: There are a couple of things that help. Having data helps and we don’t have very much data. We have a lot of data from Kim Foxx. She made a groundbreaking decision to release a lot of data, but generally we don’t have any numbers to tell us what days are doing day to day, which makes accountability even harder. I think though that if you think about this and the ways that we think about elections, which is who is an elected official accountable to, in Chicago, the people who got Kim Foxx elected were not the police, it wasn’t the police union, it wasn’t this like typical law enforcement base. It was a progressive grass roots base, it was a base of people of color, a base of poor people, a base of people who have some involvement in the criminal justice system and you know, when that’s who propels you to office, that’s who you need to be accountable to. I think that helps.

Adam: Right. Yeah. So let’s talk about Foxx real quick because I think I want to use her to pivot to another question, which is the, um, the Chicago Appleseed organization did a review of Foxx and basically found that the first year was a kind of mixed bag, that there was an actual meaningful, that there was more disclosure, more transparency, I guess less punitive punishments, especially for small drug offenses, but there was an uptick in prosecution for gun crime. And I want to talk about the issue of gun control because it, I think there’s sort of two issues that, where liberals and leftists, where there’s a bit of tension and that’s number one, the issue of what people sort of generally call carceral feminism or the issue of rape, which we’ll table for another episode, um, and then there’s the issue of gun control. So obviously there’s a huge movement right now to reform gun control. Parkland has radically changed the conversation. The school shooting that happened in Florida back in February. Now, people who are, who deal in these spaces who deal in reducing prison sentences, especially in inner city communities, especially ones with huge gun measures like Chicago, they think that this, this, this can be a bit deceptive and a bit problematic because ultimately a lot of these gun control measures end up disproportionately harming African Americans and tacking on five, ten years to their sentence. So as a sort of right minded liberal listener who wants to sort of do the right thing, in your opinion, how does one negotiate this tension within the left between the instinct to want to protect children from getting gunned down in school versus an understanding that in the aggregate these gun control measures, especially against automatic weapons and such, can effectively end people’s lives if they’re caught with them or even suspected of being caught with them.

Josie Duffy Rice: Yep. You know, I think this gets to a fundamental problem when we talk about criminal justice as it relates to any other sort of social issue, which is that we are still a very punitive society and that there is an entire kind of move towards criminal justice reform and we talk about mass incarceration etcetera. But at the end of the day, even a lot of people on the left, their instinct is to criminalize and their instinct is to, when there’s a problem, criminalize our way out of it. And you can really see that in the conversation around guns. There obviously are too many. I mean, it’s obvious to me and I think it’s obvious to a lot of people, there are too many guns in this country. They are for many people too accessible. There’s a culture around gun ownership and in many ways some of that culture perpetuates violence and is responsible when we see things like Parkland. But the answer that many people jump to is, ‘Okay, mentally ill people can’t have guns’ or ‘We need to outlaw these guns and if you’re caught with them, you know, you’re now in trouble.’ And the reality is anytime that you implement a new criminal law, I would say the vast majority of times, ninety five percent of times, that law is going to impact some communities more than others. And those communities are communities like what you hear about in Chicago, poor communities, black communities, that’s who pays the price.

Adam: It’s not really going to be Cletus who is going to be in trouble for these new laws. It’s going to be poor African Americans.

Josie Duffy Rice: Right. And it’s complicated in a lot of ways, you know, felon gun possession laws have been responsible for a major, major increase in incarceration. And regardless of whether or not you think people with criminal records or anybody should have a gun, what we’re doing is throwing people in jail simply for possession, not for doing anything, right? Having it creates this sort of pipeline into prison. And that pipeline usually is black and is usually a poor. So you asked a question of like, how do you resolve this tension? And I’m not sure that I have an answer to that and the sense that like we have really, we’re in a pickle nationwide. If we outlawed guns tomorrow, there are still so many guns in America right now. If we stopped manufacturing them tomorrow, that is to say. And there’s no easy solution. I do think the answer is to go after what’s accessible, which is manufacturing, ease of purchase, gun shows. I do think we should be headed in that direction.

Adam: It’s sort of an approach that one would take to drugs, which is you deal with it, you deal with high level dealers as opposed to the petty users.

Josie Duffy Rice: Right.

Adam: And right now we have a country where, you know, yeah, you have gun manufacturers that are contracted by the government, you have large weapons contractors who sell to different countries and so those guys are sort of okay, but then the sort of low-level guy on the street is somehow a menace and I think that’s kind of where the conversation needs to shift from my own editorial perspective.

Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah.

Adam: Another place where there is some interesting traction going on that I’ve been following and tracking closely is the movement to reform or abolish cash bail and efforts from Brooklyn to Philadelphia to Chicago where you have organizations that, what they do is they do two things. They actually have a fund that puts up bond and gets people out of jail who have been in for usually excessive amounts of time or, well in all cases they’re too poor to afford it. So you have this idea of cash bail, which a lot of people don’t really know about and I didn’t know about where effectively you have a whole class of people who are in jail before they’ve even had trial or before they’ve been found guilty of anything, who are incarcerated for simply because they can’t afford to pay for bail. Now, I was shocked to learn the statistics on this. Twenty percent of people who are currently incarcerated in the United States have not been found guilty of a crime, which strikes, I think even the most liberal reform person as being intuitively offensive.

Josie Duffy Rice: Right.

Adam: Uh, that’s a really high number to me. And I know, I know that in certain county jails the numbers are as high as seventy, eighty percent because that’s sort of where what county jails function as. And these bail reform groups that have emerged over the past few years have seen some pretty good progress. I know that in the city of Chicago the number of people who are currently in jail pretrial has gone from about 8,000 to about 6,100. So you’ve seen some actual consequences. And there was a ruling recently to not institute bail that was beyond what people can pay. Can you talk about those movements and what the momentum surrounding them is and what the prospect of their success is?

Josie Duffy Rice: Sure. So bail reform has just kind of exploded in terms of an issue that people focus on and there have, there has been for a long time certain pockets of criminal justice reformers or the criminal justice movement that has focused on bail, but now I think we can agree that it’s getting a lot more traction, a lot more publicity and we’re actually seeing some real changes on the ground. There are different ways of handling this, right? So one of our first episodes of our podcast, Justice In America, is on bail. And one of the people that we’re talking to is Alec Karakatsanis, who runs Civil Rights Corps. Civil Rights Corps is an organization that is taking the approach of suing different counties nationwide for their use of money bail. That’s one approach that people are taking. There’s a legislative approach. For example, New Jersey outlawed cash bail. There’s, like you mentioned the bailouts, Mama’s Day Bail Out, which is an effort to raise money to bail out people who are serving time. It’s kind of a spinoff of community bail funds, which we’re also seeing more of, Brooklyn, Chicago. There are efforts on sort of every different plane to kind of address bail and these community bail funds are really incredible and they’re really a brilliant idea because they are a response to the bail bondsman relationship that you see for many people who are trying to pay bail, which is really predatory and harmful to those who don’t have the money to pay. Um, and so bail funds are a grassroots community response to that and that’s truly incredible. I think that like, for myself, and I think everyone who runs a bail fund would agree with me, the goal is that one day these funds are obsolete, right?

Adam: Yes.

Josie Duffy Rice: The goal is that one day we don’t need them because in a fair system justice can never be tied to wealth. It can never be tied to money. So we truly have to rethink what pretrial holds and pretrial release look like. And that is what so many people are doing on the ground today. I think a lot of people are also trying to figure out if not bail, what do you use? Because there are some issues we have to grapple with. On one hand, it’s not fair that anybody is incarcerated before they’ve been convicted. On the other hand, if Ted Bundy, which is, uh, you know, always the rights’ example, but I’m going, I’m trying to think of someone extreme, you know, if he gets arrested and he hasn’t been convicted, but he’s, he’s a suspect in thirty murders, like maybe you don’t want him back out on the street. I think that the amount of people that we should be holding in pretrial should be one percent of what we’re holding now. Most people are not a danger to themselves and others once they’ve been arrested.

Adam: Yeah.

Josie Duffy Rice: Most people are not a flight risk. It’s just not actually practical or reasonable how many people we hold, not to mention ethical-

Adam: Yes.

Josie Duffy Rice:  But regardless of what we decide to do about pretrial release more generally the answer can never be that it’s tied to money.

Adam: Um, yeah. I mean, we’ve heard stories about people who’ve been in prison for years without a trial who haven’t left jail simply because they can’t afford a five, ten thousand dollar bond, which, you know, this is one of these issues where I don’t think most people really get it or know the wild racial and economic disparities that exist in the bail, in terms of bail and getting people out of prison pretrial. And I feel like when you explain that in those terms and you put a face on it, it de-abstracts it because we, you know, prison reform, and I understand why, but we talk a lot in big numbers. We talk a lot about ‘twenty five percent of the world’s prison population,’ you know, ‘X amount of people,’ ‘Y amount of people.’ But I mean these are people who are in prison before they’ve been found guilty of anything who for months, if not years, who can’t get a job, can’t go to school.

Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah.

Adam: You know, they lose bonds with their father, with their sons, with their daughter, with family members.

Josie Duffy Rice:  Yep, yep.

Adam: Uh, there are statistics and statistics that show you’re actually way more likely to win a case if you’re out of jail. So then you have that compounding aspect where it’s almost impossible if not incredibly difficult to quarterback your own defense because obviously a lot of public defenders are sort of, you know, they kind of phone it in. Um, and so there’s all these sort of tremendous consequences for pretrial detention and it’s one of the things that I know that your podcast is going to focus on and I’m super excited to hear about it on the first episode.

Josie Duffy Rice: Great yeah, we’re excited to talk about it.

Adam: Sorry. It’s one of those things where I get kind of angry about it.

Josie Duffy Rice: No, it’s outrageous.

Adam: I’m supposed to be the dispassionate host, but you know.

Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, I think that ship sailed.

Adam: Yeah, I’m pretty sure it did. So there’s an interesting conversation surrounding how to quote, “reform police,” where DAs can kind of come in as well, where there’s this idea that the Department of Justice comes along under Obama, Jeff Sessions doesn’t do it anymore, but under Obama they would come and they would review these police departments and give a series of recommendations in a really kind of cynical, liberal or I guess someone argued neo-liberal spending mechanism. Several mayors have used this line of police reform or the movement for police reform to actually increase the budgets of police departments. You see this time and time again. In a 2015 interview with The New Republic, then candidate for president Hillary Clinton, when she was asked what her Black Lives Matter platform was one of the things she told the interviewer was that she wanted more money for police departments so they could train people. Rahm Emanuel in Chicago is building a $95 million police academy and he’s using the DoJ recommendations for police reform to justify the cost, which the police academy, especially since dozens and dozens of schools in Chicago have been closed, has been met with tremendous pushback. Um, to what extent is there a worry that attempts to quote unquote “reform the police” or criminal justice in general will just end up funneling more money into the system itself?

Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, I think that’s a real concern and I think it also touches on something, even taking the increased funding out of the equation, you’re touching on something that is, for me, a very frustrating issue because it’s treating the means to an end, as an end. Right?

Adam: Right.

Josie Duffy Rice: And so we see it all the time, ‘Oh, we need more community policing, we need more implicit bias training.’ You know, ‘We need more community events with the police.’

Adam: Right.

Josie Duffy Rice: ‘The police have to see these residents as people and the residents need to see the police as people. And we need like kind of trying this, this construct of building more humanity among all the parties and how that will lead to a changed police force.’ And what I would say is like maybe, but probably not, but regardless, that’s not the goal. The goal is not implicit bias training, right?

Adam: Right.

Josie Duffy Rice: The goal is less involvement by the police with the police. The goal is less brutality. The goal is a more functional police presence, if there’s a presence at all. And we have to rethink what we’re asking for. When Rahm Emanuel says, ‘We are going to do more implicit bias training.’ I don’t really care how you get there, but you have to get there. You can do implicit bias training all day and if it doesn’t actually change the numbers on the ground, people’s experiences, then it’s not working and we have to move to plan B, C, D, E or F. You know, I’m not a believer that implicit bias training works. The numbers don’t bear out.

Adam: Yeah. There’s a weird kind of meta ethos you see sometimes where people think the solution to gross racial disparities is not to lower the amount of African Americans in prison but is somehow to increase the amount of white people.

Josie Duffy Rice: Right.

Adam: The thing is, we’ve done all this before. In the nineties when all the major, the major crime reform bill that put tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of African Americans in prison, was floated in the nineties, they used the term “community policing,” it is a very popular term.

Josie Duffy Rice: Right.

Adam: If you actually go through and read the media at the time it’s ‘Bill Clinton argues for community policing’, which was a totally BS, like liberal nonsensical term that is just a way for putting more police on the streets. And then when, when, when I saw Hillary Clinton used it again in 2015, she used the term “community policing.” It’s a way to kind of launder what is basically the same old thing. There are some marginal improvements around the edges in terms of, yeah, you know, it’s all things being equal its probably better police forces being more diverse, like sure, but you know, the LAPD, the racial makeup of the LAPD is completely almost one to one representative of Los Angeles and it’s one of the most abusive and racist police departments in the country.

Josie Duffy Rice: Right.

Adam: So I’m not sure there’s a lot of empirical evidence that supports these kinds of liberal half measures and I think when people speak about vagaries and the idea that it’s somehow a moral failing on the part of individual police officers, yeah, I think it generally kind of misses what we really need, which I know from people who work on the streets and who are more of the kind of grassroots Black Lives Matter, one of the primary animating, I guess, causes, is simply just to defund the police more and that the last thing we need is a $95 million dollar police academy in the middle of Chicago where you train more people to manage the city’s poor population.

Josie Duffy Rice: I think the half measures being mistaken for whole measures is an epidemic especially in criminal justice reform. I think over and over we see among people trying to reform DAs, prisons, police, basically asking for the wrong thing and settling for the wrong thing as a win. The reality is that it’s quantifiable. We can talk about how many people are getting arrested, what those people look like, how they’re being treated, what kind of sentences are facing, what their experiences with the police versus other neighborhoods. This is what needs to change and if having a more diverse police force got us there, if more training got us there, then it would be a conversation worth having. I have seen no evidence that that’s how it works. The evidence isn’t there and so I’m not going to sleep well at night. I’m not going to be able to think about doing anything else with my life until I see the numbers change and the numbers haven’t changed significantly enough to think of these other solutions as solutions. They just haven’t.


Adam: Well Josie, thank you for coming on. That was great.

Josie Duffy Rice: Thank you. Before you go, I want you to let us know when exactly your podcast will launch or when people can expect to see it.

Josie Duffy Rice: So my podcast with Clint Smith is called Justice In America, it will be launching early June and we’re super excited.

Adam: I’m looking forward to it. Thanks so much for coming on.

Josie Duffy Rice: Thank you so much Adam.

Adam: That was Josie Duffy Rice, a senior lawyer at the Fair Punishment Project, contributing writer to The Appeal and host of the upcoming podcast Justice In America. Be sure to check that out. It’ll be on iTunes, Stitcher and other places you can find podcasts. I’m your host Adam Johnson. This is The Appeal Podcast. It is produced by Florence Barrau-Adams with executive producer Sarah Leonard. Thank you so much for listening. We’ll catch you next week.