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Jailing for Dollars: The Moral Costs of Privatizing Justice (2013)

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April 23, 2013 | Lincoln Center Campus

Over the past 30 years, the United States has become the world’s leader in incarceration with 2.2 million people currently in the nation’s prisons or jails. Harsher laws and longer sentences have led to an explosive increase in prison over-crowding and economic burdens for state governments; with little evidence of increased public safety. Efforts to ease the financial pressures on municipalities have given rise to government contracted for-profit prison companies. Once considered a free-market solution to the prison crises, the privatization of incarceration in the U.S. has raised urgent moral questions about the policies and practices of the criminal justice system and the nature and doing of justice.

With presentations from well-known public figures, policy-makers, moral scholars, religious leaders and criminal justice professionals, this multidisciplinary conferenceexplored the nature and ethical implications of jailing for profit, including:

  • Do public-private prison contracts that incentivize high incarceration rates have a perverse effect on police and judicial actions?
  • Can we morally justify the human cost of money-saving practices that lead to overcrowding, unsafe, and demoralizing prison conditions for inmates and prison staff?

Conference Speakers

    • Cindy Chang | Staff Writer, The Los Angeles Times
      Cindy Chang covers immigration and ethnic communities for the Los Angeles Times. While at the New Orleans Times-Picayune, she was the lead writer for a series exposing the role of Louisiana’s for-profit prisons in the state’s world-leading incarceration rate. “Louisiana Incarcerated” received the June 2012 Sidney Award and the 2013 John Jay College/H.F. Guggenheim Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting Award.
    • Scott Cohn | Investigative Reporter, CNBC
      Scott Cohn is leads the CNBC network’s investigative unit, Investigations Inc. He also appears on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, Today, MSNBC, and the NBC News magazine Rock Center with Brian Williams. Cohn is a three-time Emmy nominee, all for investigative reporting, and a two-time CableACE nominee. He has reported some of CNBC’s most acclaimed documentaries, including “Billions Behind Bars: Inside America’s Prison Industry,” which received a 2012 Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA). His groundbreaking documentary “Remington Under Fire: A CNBC Investigation” received a 2011 Gerald Loeb Award—the highest honor in business journalism—as well as top honors from IRE, the national organization of investigative reporters and editors. His other documentaries include “Price of Admission: America’s College Debt Crisis,” “Secrets of the Knight: Sir Allen Stanford and the Missing Billions,” “Filthy Rich” and “Health Care Hustle.”A native of Chicago, Cohn holds a degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin, where he currently serves on the advisory board of the Center for Journalism Ethics. In 2005, the University honored him with its annual award for Distinguished Service to Journalism.
    • Thomas Giovanni | Counsel to the Justice Program, The Brennan Center
      Thomas Giovanni is Counsel to the Justice Program at the Brennan Center. He has expertise in criminal justice, criminal procedure and trial practice, public defense, and pretrial proceedings. His work focuses on eliminating mass incarceration and improving public defense services. He is also Director of the Community-Oriented Defender Network, a network housed in the Brennan Center’s Justice Program, composed of defender offices from across the country, dedicated to using their skills to improve the lives of clients and the communities in which they live.Before coming to the Brennan Center, Thomas was a public defender for a decade at the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem. Thomas has collaborated extensively with clinical law programs at Cardozo and Fordham, and served as a guest lecturer and field placement supervisor for the NYU School of Law’s Criminal and Community Defense clinic. Each year, he also serves as a Coach at the New York State Defender’s Association Basic Trial Skills Program, an intensive trial advocacy training for criminal defense attorneys. Thomas has been featured on The Rachel Maddow Show, PBS’s Need to Know, and NY1’s Inside City Hall. He holds a BA (1994) from Morehouse College, a Historically Black College, and a JD from Georgetown University Law Center (1998).
    • Judith Greene | Founding Director, Justice Strategies
      Judy Greene is an independent criminal justice policy analyst and a founder of Justice Strategies. Her areas of expertise include private prisons, sentencing, and corrections policy. Judy began her prison privatization research almost a decade ago as a Senior Research Fellow for the Institute on Criminal Justice at the University of Minnesota Law School. Prior to that post Judy was director of the State-Centered Program for the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation. From 1985 to 1993 Judy was Director of Court Programs at the Vera Institute of Justice, and she is currently a senior research associate for the Justice Policy Institute, the Drug Policy Alliance and the Women’s Prison Association.Since completing the Minnesota privatization research, she has documented and assessed “best practices” in private prison oversight for the RAND Corporation, under sponsorship by the National Institute of Justice, and has investigated human rights abuses in private prisons as a Senior Soros Justice Fellow of the Open Society Institute.Over many years of research on sentencing and corrections policy Judy has provided legislative testimony in California, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, Georgia, and Texas, and has presented papers for scores of professional and policy organizations, including the National Institute of Justice, the National Institute on Corrections; the Open Society Institute, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the British Columbia Provincial Court Judicial Conference, the Freidrich Ebert Stiftung, the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, the Economic Policy Institute, the Minnesota Sentencing Commission, the Maryland Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy, and the Youth Law Center.
    • Michael P. Jacobson | Director and President, The Vera Institute
      Michael P. Jacobson is the president and CEO of the Vera Institute of Justice in New York City. Dr. Jacobson joined Vera as its fourth director in January 2005. Before then he was a professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. A PhD in sociology, he was the New York City Correction Commissioner from 1995 to 1998 and the City’s Probation Commissioner from 1992 to 1996. Prior to that, he worked in the New York City Office of Management and Budget from 1984 to 1992 where he was the Deputy Budget Director. He is the author of Downsizing Prisons: How to Reduce Crime and End Mass Incarceration (New York University Press 2005). He serves as chair of the New York City Criminal Justice Agency.
  • John Pfaff (Moderator) | Associate Professor of Law, Fordham University School of Law
    John Pfaff is an Associate Professor of Law where he teaches criminal law, sentencing law, and law and economics. Before coming to Fordham, he was the John M. Olin Fellow at the Northwestern University School of Law and clerked for Judge Stephen F. Williams on the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. Professor Pfaff’s research focuses on empirical questions related to criminal law and sentencing and, more generally, on the application of social science techniques to criminal law and policy. He is currently focusing on two empirical questions. The first explores the forces which have driven the explosive growth of the US prison population over the past thirty years. And the second looks at how to incorporate evidence based practices into the judicial review of scientific and empirical evidence. For his work on the latter issue, Professor Pfaff recently received a two-year grant from the John Templeton Foundation and the University of Chicago’s Arete Initiative for the study of wisdom.

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