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Criminal (In)justice

Problems with police, prosecutors and courts have people asking: is our criminal justice system broken? University of Pittsburgh law professor David Harris interviews the people who know the system best, and hears their best ideas for fixing it. Criminal (In)justice is an independent production created in partnership with 90.5 WESA, Pittsburgh's NPR News Station.
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Now displaying: 2019
Nov 19, 2019

In the U.S., our prisons are full of people raised in the poorest neighborhoods, who only had access to the worst schools. So what happens when they can enter a first-class college program – inside prison?

On this episode, Wesley Caines, an alum of the program and now Chief of Staff at Bronx Defenders, and Lynn Novick, award-winning documentary filmmaker, discuss College Behind Bars, premiering Nov. 25 and 26 on PBS.

Support Criminal Injustice at $5/month to unlock extra bonus episodes and more on the Members feed: patreon.com/criminalinjustice

Nov 16, 2019

Four Pittsburgh teens, accused of a crime they did not commit, spent months in jail despite having an ironclad alibi. What happened? Dave discusses the case, and other criminal justice news, on 90.5 WESA's The Confluence.

Nov 12, 2019

Don't miss Dave's interview next week (11/19) with filmmaker Lynn Novick, whose new documentary explores higher education from the perspective of incarcerated people.

In place of another interview this week, we're taking a moment to clear our backlog of listener questions, new developments in stories we've covered, and show news. Producer Josh Raulerson joins Dave for updates and analysis on:

  • the federal death penalty
  • Jeffery Epstein's autopsy
  • aftermath of the Amber Guyger verdict
  • Donald Trump's tax returns
  • police body cameras
  • facial recognition and mass protest
  • "Marsy's Law" legislation in multiple states

Support Criminal Injustice at $5/month to unlock extra bonus episodes and more on the Members feed: patreon.com/criminalinjustice

Nov 9, 2019

Former congressman John Conyers, who died at 90 on October 27, left office under a cloud. But he also left an important legacy for criminal justice reform: the "pattern or practice" statute that gave the Justice Department authority to go after law enforcement agencies engaged in unconstitutional practices like racial profiling.

Video: Dave addresses the Congressional Black Caucus on racial profiling in 1997


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Nov 5, 2019

This episode originally appeared on the Criminal Injustice members feed on October 24. To hear all of our premium episodes as soon as they're released, become a $5 member at patreon.com/criminalinjustice


Several notable criminal justice cases are before the U.S. Supreme Court in the session that began September 30. Here's everything you need to know.  

Nov 2, 2019

Not only does Donald Trump's personal lawyer maintain that the president doesn't have to comply with a federal subpoena -- he's argued that Trump couldn't be investigated or prosecuted even if he really did shoot someone on Fifth Avenue.


Support Criminal Injustice at $5/month to unlock extra bonus episodes and more on the Members feed: patreon.com/criminalinjustice

Oct 29, 2019

The U.S. uses solitary confinement like no other country in the world, and nowhere more than the Supermax prison in Colorado. Solitary damages prisoners' minds, and the U.N. has called it torture. What happens when prisoners leave Supermax? 

Keegan Hamilton is a senior reporter at Vice News.

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Oct 26, 2019

Are you a Criminal Injustice patron? If not, here's a taste of what you're missing on the members feed! Unlock this episode and more exclusive content at patreon.com/criminalinjustice.


Sen. Bernie Sanders was decades ahead of the Democratic party on the core ideas that now define progressive consensus on criminal justice reform. Now that the times have caught up with him, what is Bernie proposing? And can he succeed?

Oct 22, 2019

Pennsylvania's Supreme Court declines to hear a challenge to the state's death penalty law. Dave provides analysis on 90.5 WESA's The Confluence.


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Oct 19, 2019

Are you a Criminal Injustice patron? If not, here's a taste of what you're missing on the members feed! Unlock this episode and more exclusive content at patreon.com/criminalinjustice.


Donald Trump's reelection campaign isn't exactly touting his criminal justice platform, but it's not hard to read the tea leaves on what a second Trump term might look like.

Oct 15, 2019

The law makes heroin, cocaine, and meth illegal according to their defined chemical structures. But what about drugs made from synthetic compounds, which can be changed with a tiny tweak in a clandestine lab? Can the law just say "close enough?"

Jordan Rubin is a legal editor at Bloomberg Law and co-host of the Cases & Controversies podcast.

Support Criminal Injustice at $5/month to unlock extra bonus episodes and more on the Members feed: patreon.com/criminalinjustice

Oct 13, 2019

Supervised injection sites provide a venue where addicts can safely use intravenous drugs under medical supervision. The practice saves lives, but in the midst of a deadly opioid epidemic the Justice Department is going after injection sites using laws designed to shut down crack houses.

Support Criminal Injustice at $5/month and unlock extra bonus episodes and more on the Members feed: patreon.com/criminalinjustice

Oct 10, 2019

Are you a Criminal Injustice patron? If not, here's a taste of what you're missing on the members feed! Unlock this episode and more exclusive content at patreon.com/criminalinjustice.


Pete Buttigieg entered the Democratic presidential primary race last spring with a message deliberately light on policy specifics. Since then he's rolled out a robust criminal justice  platform, part of a broader package of social reforms -- but will it be enough to win over African American voters skeptical of his record as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, where Buttigieg presided over a string of race-inflected law enforcement scandals?

Oct 8, 2019

Dave explains how prosecutors use "drug delivery resulting in death" charges in opioid overdose deaths on WESA's The Confluence.

Support Criminal Injustice at $5/month and unlock extra bonus episodes and more on the Members feed: patreon.com/criminalinjustice

Oct 5, 2019

Amber Guyger, the off-duty police officer who murdered Botham Jean in his Dallas apartment, has been found guilty and sentenced to ten years in prison. The trial's resolution -- and surprising displays of emotion in the courtroom -- have sparked almost as much reaction as the crime itself.

Support Criminal Injustice at $5/month to unlock extra bonus episodes and more on the Members feed: patreon.com/criminalinjustice

Oct 1, 2019

Koch Industries and Charles and David Koch – names that
are synonymous with right-wing political causes and
deregulation of industry. So why is Koch joining with the left to give former inmates second chances?

Jenny Kim is Deputy General Counsel and Vice President for Public
Policy at Koch Industries. She’ll tell us why Koch has taken
up criminal justice reform, and she’ll tell us what she says to
Koch critics.

Do the Koch Brothers Really Care About Criminal-Justice Reform?

Willie Horton 1988 Attack Ad


Support Criminal Injustice at $5/month to unlock extra bonus episodes and more on the Members feed: patreon.com/criminalinjustice

Sep 28, 2019

Are you a Criminal Injustice patron? If not, here's a taste of what you're missing on the members feed! Unlock this episode and more exclusive content at patreon.com/criminalinjustice.


Sen. Elizabeth Warren's campaign has offered meaty policy proposals on a variety of topics, and criminal justice is no exception. While many of her proposals on issues like mass incarceration, marijuana, and private prisons line up with those of other candidates, they're distinguished by the way Warren frames them: with a dual emphasis on reforming the system and upholding public safety.

Sep 24, 2019

A crime summit held recently in St. Louis was a virtual who's-who of high ranking city and state government officials. Conspicuously absent from the gathering were the progressive, African American district attorneys of St. Louis and Kansas City, who were excluded despite having been elected to the top law enforcement post in Missouri's two largest cities. We look at the latest in a trend of anti-democratic attacks on reformist elected prosecutors.


Support Criminal Injustice at $5/month to unlock extra bonus episodes and more on the Members feed: patreon.com/criminalinjustice

Sep 21, 2019

Following a string of bank robberies, Portland police put together a photo lineup of suspects -- including one man whose mugshot had been digitally manipulated to remove prominent facial tattoos that were not present on the robber's face as described by witnesses and as shown on surveillance video. Can they do that?


Support Criminal Injustice at $5/month to unlock extra bonus episodes and more on the Members feed: patreon.com/criminalinjustice

Sep 17, 2019

Urban violence kills thousands of Americans every year.  It accounts for almost three quarters of the murders in the U.S., and it traps a huge number of people in poverty, blight, trauma and despair.  What if there was a way cut murderous urban violence – by half?

Guest Thomas Abt says it can be done with the tools we have now. He’s the author of “Bleeding Out: The Devastating Consequences of Urban Violence – and a Bold New Plan for Peace in the Streets.” 


Support Criminal Injustice at $5/month to unlock extra bonus episodes and more on the Members feed: patreon.com/criminalinjustice

Sep 16, 2019

Are you a Criminal Injustice patron? If not, here's a taste of what you're missing on the members feed! Unlock this episode and more exclusive content at patreon.com/criminalinjustice.


To understand Sen. Kamala Harris's criminal justice positions, you have to look at each of the three distinct phases of her career: politically ambitious prosecutor in San Francisco, controversial "top cop" AG of California, and Democratic primary contender lurching leftward as consensus shifts on the issues that defined her. Which is the real Harris?

Sep 13, 2019

The Justice Department has announced it will seek the death penalty in the case against Robert Bowers, the white supremacist gunman who murdered worshippers in Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue last year. Dave discusses the decision on Pittsburgh NPR station WESA.


Support Criminal Injustice at $5/month to unlock extra bonus episodes and more on the Members feed: patreon.com/criminalinjustice

Sep 10, 2019

To celebrate the launch of our Patreon, we're sharing the first in a series of presidential candidate profiles: a look at frontrunner Joe Biden's amazing transformation from a tough-on-crime conservative Democrat during the '80s and '90s into a decarcerationist and would-be reformer on the 2020 campaign trail. 

In future episodes we'll be examining the records and rhetoric of each of the major presidential candidates. To hear the rest of the series, become a $5/month Criminal Injustice member and gain access to our new premium content stream! There we'll be releasing more special series like this one, along with extra bonus episodes and videos just for our Patreon supporters -- and, if you're one of the first 100 to join, you'll get a free signed copy of Dave's 2012 book Failed Evidence: Why Law Enforcement Resists Science. 

Sep 7, 2019

As reform-minded elected prosecutors gain power across the U.S., they’re increasingly coming under fire from their federal counterparts — most recently, an anti-democratic tirade by U.S. Attorney Bill Barr, who attacked progressive district attorneys for doing what voters elected them to do.


Support Criminal Injustice at $5/month to unlock extra bonus episodes and more on the Members feed: patreon.com/criminalinjustice

Sep 3, 2019

Many people make their social media posts public.  Everyone can see them, like a signed billboard visible anywhere in the world. So, what should we think when we learn that *some* police officers, in some departments, have been posting racist messages or memes endorsing violence, visible to anyone on the Internet? 

Emily Baker-White is founder of The Plain View Project, an organization that gathered and analyzed thousands of social media posts by police officers, from many police departments. The results reveal much – none of it positive – about the racial and other attitudes of some officers. 

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