Annual HFG Symposium on Crime in America Examines Criminal Justice Reform in the Biden Era

March 29, 2021

(NEW YORK)The 16th annual Harry Frank Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America was held March 4-5 with the theme: “The Next Four Years: Justice in the Biden Era.”

Normally held at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, the conference and related events were presented online as a webinar this year due to the pandemic. 

The two-day symposium, organized by the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College, convened journalists, scholars, and policymakers from around the country to discuss emerging crime and violence issues. With 14 panels on topics ranging from “Setting a Bipartisan Agenda” to “Solutions to Excessive Force,” speakers explored the state of crime and violence in the U.S. with an emphasis on potential changes under the Biden administration and in light of recent demands for policing, prosecutorial, and prison reform. 

Speakers included Bill Bratton, former NYPD Commissioner; Eddie Garcia, Dallas Chief of Police, Chesa Boudin, San Francisco District Attorney; Christine Leonard, Counsel for the Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives; Stephen Tausend, Legislative Director, Office of Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas); Prof. Cynthia Miller-Idriss of American University; Prof. Alfred Blumstein of Carnegie Mellon University; and Washington State Rep. Tarra Simmons,the first former incarceree to win state office.

Highlights from the symposium: 

  • Welcome from Harry Frank Guggenheim President Daniel F. Wilhelm
  • Crime Trends 2020-2021: Leading U.S. criminologists and analysts discuss crime trends, including the homicide spike, the impact of COVID-19, and the resurgence of far-right extremist violence. Moderator: Stephen Handelman, Director of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice; Speakers: Prof. Alfred Blumstein of Carnegie Mellon University, Prof. Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri–St. Louis, and Prof. Cynthia Miller-Idriss of American University. | Watch video 
  • Can the “Progressive” Prosecutor Movement Survive? Current and former prosecutors and a public defender discuss whether prosecutors can be a force for change. Moderator: Marissa Boyers Bluestine, Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School; Speakers: Chesa Boudin, San Francisco District Attorney, John Chisholm, Milwaukee District Attorney, Darcy Covert, Milwaukee District Attorney, and Miriam Krinsky, Founder, Fair and Just Prosecution. | Watch video
  • Conversation with Chiefs: Police chiefs and sheriffs from Virginia, Wisconsin, and Texas discuss how their departments are working to rebuild public trust and manage increasing societal demands placed on their officers. Moderator: Stephen Handelman; Speakers: RaShall Brackney, Charlottesville, Virginia, Chief of Police; Edgardo Garcia, Dallas Chief of Police; and Sheriff David Mahoney, Dane County, Wisconsin, President, National Sheriffs Association. | Watch video
  • Effective Community Policing: A discussion of how community policing has changed and how calls for “defunding the police” might affect local law enforcement practices. Moderator: Joe Domanick, Associate Director, CMCJ; Speakers: Bill Bratton, former NYPD Police Commissioner, and Connie Rice, Founder, the Advancement Project, Los Angeles. | Watch video

For a full recap of the event, including recordings of the panel discussions and speakers’ presentations, visit The Crime Report at John Jay College.

Journalism fellowships and awards

The Foundation awarded fellowships to U.S.-based journalists who cover crime and violence issues to participate in the symposium. 

At the end of the symposium, participants heard from winners of the 2021 Harry Frank Guggenheim Awards for Excellence in Criminal Justice Journalism. The prizes, administered by the Center on Media, Crime and Justice, recognize the previous year’s best print and online justice reporting by a U.S.-based media outlet. 

The reporting staff of ProPublica won in the series category for “The NYPD Files,” an investigation into the New York Police Department that documented how allegations of excessive use of force were handled. The award went to ProPublica reporters Eric Umansky, Joaquin Sapien, Topher Sanders, Mollie Simon, Moiz Syed, Derek Willis, Lena Groeger, Adriana Gallardo, Joshua Kaplan, and Lucas Waldron.

Mississippi Today reporters Anna Wolfe and Michelle Liu, working in partnership with The Marshall Project, won the single story award for their story “Think Debtors Prisons Are a Thing of the Past? Not in Mississippi.” The story revealed that Mississippi’s four so-called “restitution centers” effectively serve as debtors prisons, with some individuals confined for as long as five years while they work at low-wage, and sometimes dangerous, jobs.

Tony Plohetski of the Austin American-Statesman was named runner-up for a multimedia series on the collaboration of a Texas sheriff’s office with a reality TV show that allegedly led to violent and aggressive tactics.

Washington Post national reporter Hannah Dreier was named runner-up in the single-story category for “Trust and Consequences,” which revealed that therapy sessions with undocumented migrant children were shared with U.S. immigration authorities for possible use in court proceedings against them.

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