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'We’re Talking About Access to Justice': 8 Key Quotes From the 2020 Innovations Conference

Under the banner of #ShrinkTheSystem, 22 different panels discuss ways to fundamentally transform criminal justice in the United States.

Dozens of experts and advocates from across the country convened at their desks, dinner tables, and home offices last week for the 2020 Innovations Conference. Under the banner of #ShrinkTheSystem, 22 different panels discuss ways to fundamentally transform criminal justice in the United States. The three-day event, in partnership with Arnold Ventures, covered topics including pretrial reform, community supervision, COVID-19, and how arts and media covers the criminal justice system. For those who couldn’t make it — or missed an event — videos of the panels are still available online

The criminal justice communications staff was glued to our laptops, and took away these eight key quotes from a few assorted panels.


Panel: Developing an Affirmative Vision: Implementing New Models of Justice Sponsored by the Public Welfare Foundation

Vincent Schiraldi, Columbia University Justice Lab 

Vincent Schiraldi

I’m in my 40th year now in this field, and I started in 1980. For a lot of the years the numbers of people getting locked up in our horrible prisons and juvenile facilities was going up and up and up every year. And so the orientation for advocates like myself was to start every speech with, 'We’ve got to lock fewer people up. We’ve got to close prisons. We’ve got to do all that stuff.' And at the end of the stump speech, I’d recommend, 'Oh, we should shift some of that money into involved communities.' And [now I’m being challenged] to flip my standard stump speech and focus on the latter part of that first. So that’s what I want to do.

Pretrial Justice in a Pandemic: When Public Health is Public Safety (Sponsored by Right on Crime)

Cherise Fanno Burdeen, Pretrial Justice Institute

Cherise Fanno Burdeen

The original intent of bail was to assure people’s appearance at court. And if you think about 1820 or 1720 versus 2020, what we were mostly concerned about in Colonial days was people getting on horseback and fleeing way to the other side and they wouldn't come back for trial. That isn’t really the case today.


Marc Levin, Right On Crime/ Texas Public Policy Foundation

Marc Levin

I’m a free market guy. I believe if you have money you should be able to buy a nicer car, a nicer home. But here we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about access to justice.




Panel: Centering Community Safety: Narrative, Governance, and the Future of Justice Reform (Sponsored by The Square One Project)

Aswad Thomas, Alliance for Safety and Justice & Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice

Aswad Thomas

In my immediate family, five out of 10 males in my family are victims of gun violence. And like many black victims, including my family and also including one of the young men that shot me who was also a victim of gun violence four years before I got shot, the justice system failed us. Often we were treated like criminals. And you know, my need for services, the needs of my family members, and the needs of this young man who was a victim of violence, were ignored. And I remember doing my recovery, law enforcement came to my house several times. And each time they came over it was always about the case. Not one time did they ask me how I was doing or if I needed any assistance through the victims compensation program or to connect me with any victim services in the community.

Panel: A Clean Slate in the Age of Coronavirus (Sponsored by the Clean Slate Initiative)

Sheena Meade, Clean Slate Initiative

Sheena Meade

This moment right now has actually created a space for or created an opportunity for people to lean in and engage and try to understand what is really going on. How am I showing up institutionally? Where am I putting my dollars at? How am I leading my organization?

You see many statements come out from corporations, and protesters and activists have pushed them, saying, “Thank you for your statement, but how is your board looking? Let me see what your board looks like. Let me see, are you investing in private prisons? Where’s your 401k — where’s that investment at?”

And this is the opportunity, where we’re saying, “If you really want to empower our communities, if you really invested in directly impacted people, you would divest from these other money ventures and things like that, and 401ks and stocks or businesses.”

I believe that is where we start to create power.

Panel: Community Supervision: Long-Term Reform And Short-Term Responses (Sponsored by R Street Institute)

Arthur Rizer, R Street Institute

Arthur Rizer

The history of community supervision in the United States is fascinating. It was designed as a safety valve to ensure people weren’t being overly incarcerated. It’s original purpose was of a more humane treatment. The theory was you could have better treatment in your community and we shouldn’t incarcerate people we don’t need to incarcerate. You go back far enough, when this country was founded, the sentence for stealing a horse? The death penalty. The sentence for killing someone? The death penalty. We have gradually become more humane in the way we punish, but you’ll see in history it’s kind of an up and down proposition. We create prison as an alternative to cutting off your arm or a death sentence, and then we institute community supervision as a way to help alleviate how many people were going to prison. There is always a downside, that we over-supervise and people are on probation for a longer time.

Jessica Jackson, Reform Alliance

Jessica Jackson

Right now we know that mass supervision is leading to mass incarceration. It’s such a trap that people get caught up in because it’s structure essentially to only function to return people to jail and prison and to penalize them when they’re not walking a perfect line — one that doesn’t even include having to commit new crimes. People go to prison and jail for things like missing a meeting with their probation officer or not being able to pay restitution or leaving the jurisdiction or being around somebody else on probation. It’s really easy to get returned to incarceration and it’s a revolving door.

Angel Sanchez, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition

Angel Sanchez

A lot of time we’re supervising adults that just need maturity. I got out and decided I’ll move into a homeless shelter. I can’t go back to my old hood. That’s where the negative influences are. More importantly I’m on probation and I have a mom battling drug addiction and I have a sister who herself is on probation. That could lead to a technical violation. For many people in poor neighborhoods the wrong place at the wrong time is everywhere.