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2016 H.F. Guggenheim/John Jay Prize For Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting

Beth Schwartzapfel of The Marshall Project, and an investigative reporting team from the Belleville News-Democrat—Beth Hundsdorfer, George Pawlaczyk and Zia Nizami—are the winners of the John Jay College/Harry Frank Guggenheim 2016 Awards for Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting. “The impressive work of these journalists illustrates why reform of our criminal justice system has risen to the top of our national agenda,” said Jeremy Travis, president of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, in the prize announcement on Jan. 25. […]


'Fairy Tales' & Drugs in America's Courtrooms

The arrest and conviction of Dennis Hardee, of Philadelphia, was nothing unusual in the annals of America's Drug War. In 2013, he was convicted of taking part in a conspiracy to rob a cocaine stash house and then sell the proceeds. As it happened, there was also nothing unusual in the fact that both the stash house and the drugs were invented by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)—a common tactic aimed at going after violent predators […]


Cost of Criminal Justice Higher for Young Black Men

Black men face greater obstacles and harsher penalties than other offenders as they move through the criminal justice system, from higher bond amounts to more severe prison sentences, according to a study published recently in the American Society of Criminology journal Criminology & Public Policy. The research examined the cases of 3,459 defendants indicted on felony charges in an urban U.S. jurisdiction and found that young black men face “cumulative disadvantages” throughout the criminal justice process. The authors found that […]


Study: Why Prosecutors are Likely to Opt for Misdemeanor Charges

Prosecutors deciding whether to file a misdemeanor or felony charge in a borderline case are likely to engage in “strategic undercharging,” knowing that a conviction on the misdemeanor carries an expanded set of penalties, according to research forthcoming in the William & Mary Law Review. But while misdemeanor defendants have faced a growing set of penalties since the 1990s, they do not enjoy the same safeguards as felony defendants. The penalties for misdemeanor offenses, also called “collateral consequences,” could include […]


Whose Justice Is It?

The phrase “criminal justice system” is everywhere, but no one working in—or writing about—the system day-to-day spends much time debating what sort of “system” this system might actually be. It is what it is. But a recent New York Times account of a startling amicus brief filed by former Justice Department dignitaries (including a former Attorney General and a former Solicitor General) urging the Supreme Court to reverse a government victory . . . Want to read more? Please subscribe […]


The Long Wait for Justice

Hundreds of criminal defendants declared incompetent to stand trial are sitting in county jails around California awaiting transfer to state facilities for mental health treatment. By law these defendants must receive treatment within 35 days. But an American Civil Liberties (ACLU) lawsuit filed against the state says many vulnerable inmates languish in jail, sometimes for as long as a year. “Jail is simply too dangerous a place for these most vulnerable defendants,” says Micaela Davis, one of the ACLU's lead […]


Why Innocent Defendants Plead Guilty to Rape Charges

The field of wrongful conviction is filled with seeming anomalies: faulty identifications by eye-witnesses, suspects who “confess” to crimes they did not commit, and unreliable testimony from “scientific” experts. As part of our continuing examination of wrongful conviction in rape cases, we have identified another seeming anomaly: innocent defendants who pled guilty to rape. While a wrongful trial conviction is thought to be a rare and deplorable outcome, the notion of the innocent defendant pleading guilty rather than declaring his […]


The Longest Serving Jail Inmate in St. Louis

Jail is supposed to be a temporary affair. If bail is too expensive, defendants are held until they are sent to prison, or freed. The average length of stay in St. Louis jails is 233 days. That includes people serving short-term sentences. Then there's the rare case of 37-year-old Calvin D. Brown. Although he's been convicted of a murder in which he nearly cut off his grandmother's head, he still sits in the St. Louis City Justice Center downtown going […]


When Justice Wasn't Blind

What are the experiences of African-Americans in the criminal justice system? And what forces led this community to be so intertwined with the justice system? African Americans and Criminal Justice: An Encyclopedia is a newly released effort to explore these questions. The encyclopedia provides a unique overview of the wide range of African-American experiences with the law and justice system, starting with Colonial times. In addition to chronicling the racial origins of legislation enacted by many states and the federal […]