Our most read — and listened to — stories of 2019 are as varied as the work we do seeking evidence-based solutions that will improve lives. The stories below tackle the bipartisan era of criminal justice reform, the absurdity of America’s prescription drug prices (a top concern among voters in the 2020 election), and the tragedy of the U.S. opioid crisis. Our list also includes an appearance by a top-selling hip-hop artist who is using his platform to reform our broken probation and parole system.
Here are the stories to bookmark for the next time you’re looking to be moved to action, inspired, or informed about the most pressing problems in our country today:
Our “Deep Dive with Laura Arnold” podcast, which debuted in 2019, makes several appearances on this list, and for good reason. Host Laura Arnold, our Co-Founder and Co-Chair, not only possesses a soothing, radio-friendly voice, but also has a knack for distilling complex issues that impact all Americans to their most relatable core. In this episode, she talks to chart-topping hip-hop artist Meek Mill about his very personal fight to right the wrongs of a probation and parole system that has become one of the biggest drivers of mass incarceration in this country.
It makes sense that this is our top story. Meek Mill has a massive platform, which he has used to forward his work with REFORM Alliance, an organization dedicated to reducing the number of Americans in the criminal justice system. (Laura is also a board member.) One retweet from him can certainly make a story go viral.
One of our most enduring stories of the year was this heartbreaking piece from Sebastion Johnson, our Criminal Justice Manager, about George Stinney, an innocent 14-year-old black teen executed in 1944’s Jim Crow South. It’s a reflection written after the inaugural roundtable of the Square One Project, a collaboration of students, academics, practitioners, advocates, and community leaders who are reimagining what justice in the United States would look like if we started from “square one.” They’re asked to thoughtfully challenge traditional responses to crime, poverty, racial inequality, violence and safety, criminalization and punishment. But Sebastion wanted to start by reexamining our past. An excerpt from his piece:
I have been haunted by George’s question in the time since I learned of his case. It was certainly at the front of my mind when I read recently about the white woman in Georgia who called the police on a black man babysitting two white children because she “just had a funny feeling.” Viral incidents of profiling and harassment abound — countless black lives inconvenienced, persecuted, and curtailed for things they did not do. What is it that makes so many Americans look at their black fellow citizens and see criminals?
In 2019, Arnold Ventures was born, and our President and CEO Kelli Rhee shared the news in a letter to our supporters and grantees. She not only unveiled a brand new look, logo, and website, but also explained how our restructuring as an LLC would allow us to drive meaningful policy change in our core areas of criminal justice, health, education, and public finance, as well as in emerging work such as electoral reform.
Prisons are a black box, and in 2019, we set out to change that. This first in a compelling three-part series elevates the voices of those who have lived and worked inside these woefully understudied institutions and explains how, working with Vera Institute of Justice and the Urban Institute, we are investing in efforts to make prisons more humane.
With our shift to an LLC in 2019 came the need to integrate our communications and advocacy strategies with policy and research. For that we tapped Kevin Madden, a nationally recognized public affairs executive tasked with placing Arnold Ventures as a leader in public policy debates and outcomes at the federal, state and local levels.
If you want to understand the wacky world of drug pricing, listen no further than this “Deep Dive with Laura Arnold” episode featuring David Mitchell of Patients for Affordable Drugs. Mitchell worked for more than 40 years as a public relations specialist and is behind such memorable campaigns as “Click It or Ticket.” In 2010, he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an incurable blood cancer. The cost to keep him alive every year: $325,000. That reality prompted Mitchell to become an advocate for drug pricing reform. He and Laura discuss the broken drug pricing system built for profit — not patients — and play a game of “Pharma Would Say.”
More than 47,000 Americans died in 2017 from an opioid-related overdose, and the risk of overdose is 129 times greater for those who are forced to quit cold turkey in jail, then leave jail and return to their previous levels of drug use. But in 2019, more than a dozen communities were selected to help reverse that trend. In a partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice, we are helping 15 communities implement medication-assisted treatment in their jails. And the program goes a step further, ensuring support continues when people are released and more susceptible to fatal overdoses.
Our co-founders brought the issue of oppressive drug prices to the masses with their appearance on NBC Nightly News. In an interview with Anne Thompson, they explained how the industry enjoys a monopoly on pricing and delivery and exploits patent laws to maximize profits. "The industry has pushed pricing so far that it's created a fury amongst the populace," says John Arnold.
The “Deep Dive with Laura Arnold” podcast continues its streak on our list with this episode on higher education, which has been a hot topic in the Democratic presidential debates. While candidates continue to focus on free college, Laura talks to experts Lanae Erickson, a Senior Vice President at the Washington think tank Third Way, and Kevin Carey, Vice President of Education Policy and Knowledge Management at New America, about the epidemic of college closures that leave students with debt but no degree. They discuss the need to hold schools accountable, invest in community colleges, and put more data in the hands of students so they can make informed choices about their futures.
Rounding out our top 10 stories of 2019 is an unlikely tale of bipartisanship, which is not the norm in U.S. politics right now — except in the world of criminal justice reform. Laura sits down with Marc Levin, Vice President of Criminal Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Right on Crime, and Anthony Romero, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, who have found common ground on the issue, and takes listeners behind closed doors for discussions on the First Step Act with Jared Kushner. This episode asks the question: “How can individuals or groups who are diametrically opposed to one another on a particular issue still find ways to work together in separate areas?”