A Brennan Center discussion of a new book, Decarcerating America, considers ways to keep people out of jail

Nicole Zayas Fortier, Judith Greene, Robin Steinberg
Nicole Zayas Fortier, Judith Greene, Robin Steinberg '82

Close to 11 million people cycle through the jail system each year, says Robin Steinberg ’82, founder of The Bail Project, an organization that pays bail for low-income Americans at risk of pretrial detention, and former executive director of The Bronx Defenders, a public defense nonprofit.

Steinberg is one of the criminal justice experts who have contributed to a new book, Decarcerating America: From Mass Punishment to Public Health, edited by NYU Professor of Global Health Ernest Drucker, which compiles ideas for reforming America’s prison system. At an event held by the Brennan Center for Justice on March 29, Nicole Fortier, advocacy and policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, moderated a discussion about the book with Steinberg and another contributor, Judith Greene, director of Justice Strategies, which provides research to support grassroots movements and policy reforms.

Select remarks from the discussion:

Steinberg: “When I say an arrest is never [just] an arrest, what I mean is it’s just the very beginning of the devastating wave of consequences that can happen to somebody, most of which were developed in our ‘get tough on crime years’ where we weren’t satisfied by just incarcerating people and destroying their families and undermining communities—we had to attach other things, we had to do more, [such as] add immigration consequences.”

Greene: “In 2016, 41 states of the 50 had a [state prison population] decline from whatever year was their high-water mark to 2016. Overall the decline in our state prison population has been six percent… and in fact the states that have had the largest degree of decarceration, percentage-wise, are also associated with larger declines in crime.”

Steinberg: “The core of the Bail Project is to bail as many people out as quickly as you can… but the second thing is, if the bail fund model proves one thing, it proves that ROR—releasing somebody on their own recognizance—is the answer…. The overwhelming majority of time you can just release people, and they will come back to court.”

Watch the full video of the event (1 hr, 11 min): 

Posted May 3, 2018