At The Crossroads September 21, 2021

“We Have a Lot of Damage to Undo”: A Conversation with Jeremy Travis

By Greg Berman

Jeremy Travis

In one way or another, Jeremy Travis has been involved in almost every significant criminal justice reform effort of the past 50 years. This includes multiple efforts to address the problem of urban violence, which has had such a devastating impact on low-income neighborhoods and communities of color in particular.   

Travis worked at the Vera Institute of Justice in the 1970s during the early days of the bail reform movement. He was a deputy commissioner at the New York Police Department (NYPD) in the early 1990s, when violent crime rates began to plummet. Later, at the U.S. Department of Justice, as director of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) during the Clinton administration, Travis helped to advance the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (Crime Bill) of 1994. He also helped spark the reentry movement. More recently, as president of John Jay College at the City University of New York from 2004 to 2016, he helped to spread the focused-deterrence model across the country. Throughout his career, Travis has worked closely with a broad range of luminaries, including New York City Mayor Edward Koch, Senator Charles Schumer, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, when she was a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. 

Travis is now the executive vice president for criminal justice at Arnold Ventures, where he oversees a portfolio of grants that seek to advance racial justice. These include the Square One Project, a special three-year initiative that is attempting to reimagine the criminal justice system from top to bottom.

In this interview with Greg Berman, Distinguished Fellow of Practice at The Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, Travis reflects on his career and the current “once-in-a-half-century” movement to reform criminal justice in the United States. 

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Greg Berman: You recently told me that you went to New York City criminal court to mark the 50th anniversary of your first visit to criminal court. Tell me what you saw. What was the same, what was different? 

Jeremy Travis: So the goal, very selfishly, was to take the occasion of the 50th anniversary of my starting in the criminal justice world to engage in a period of reflection. I spent a day in arraignment court at 100 Centre Street in Manhattan. Compared to my first days at 100 Centre Street, there were some pretty profound changes, starting with metal detectors at every door, which did not exist in 1971. I found the whole security apparatus at the front door of the courthouse really alienating and startling. 

The other big change, of course, was that I was there in the midst of the pandemic. So the arraignment court was empty, except for the judge, court officers, and police officers. Fifty years ago, when I was working for the Legal Aid Society, I was struck by the vitality of the courtroom. Every day, I would see people in moments of intense anxiety and distress. That kind of human drama was nonexistent because of the pandemic. Instead, there was a disembodied arraignment process with a judge speaking to a defendant on a screen in front of him. The defendant was in the holding pens behind the courtroom, speaking to the judge through a laptop. The judge was really good at trying to make a human connection through the technology, but it was a disembodied experience.

Sitting in the courtroom was a strong reminder of the ways in which our apparatus of justice, starting with the police, squeezes a lot of human drama—and claims from ordinary people that their government should help them—into the box of each individual case. In the midst of a once-in-a-half-century reform movement, how do we pay attention to that reality? How do we make sure that we do not lose sight of the very real experiences of people who have been harmed? In court the other day, there was a sexual assault case, there was a shoplifting, there was a street mugging. These are all very real circumstances that come into the courtrooms of our country. How we respond best to them is always the question of justice. 

Do you feel like there is a disconnect between the once-in-a-half-century criminal justice reform movement that you mentioned and the adjudication of the individual cases that you saw in the courtroom the other day?

My meditation of the day was being reminded of the daily reality of courts, and police, and crime, and the individual injuries and harms that are being suffered. Over the last 50 years, we’ve constructed an enormous criminal justice apparatus. Do I doubt for a minute the importance of the reform movement that is focused on undoing that system? Not for a minute. Do we all need to be reminded that there are real people who are hurting, who are demanding some sort of response to their situation? Absolutely. 

That's the challenge right now: to think carefully about what might be driving violence and about what we now can do that we didn't know to do before. In particular, we need to avoid overreacting by increasing sentences and sending more people to prison, which is what we did in the '80s and '90s.

I think the Square One Project for me is an acknowledgment that we have a lot of damage to undo and a lot of racial harm to come to terms with. But at the end of the day, wherever that reimagination process leads us, there will always be instances of people coming into the courts of our country where something should be done. It shouldn’t be exactly what we’re doing now. We have to be much less punitive in our response and much more restorative in resolving our conflicts. Ultimately, we need to have a response that promotes individual and community well-being. We’ve gone so far off course. We are now in a period of fundamental course correction where we have to recognize the harm that we’ve done and undo many of the policies that have promoted this era of punitive excess. 

You cut your professional teeth at the Vera Institute of Justice during what was an incredibly fertile moment for the organization. I would put Vera’s accomplishments during that era up against just about any nonprofit that I can think of. What was it like to be at Vera back then?

Vera was a high-energy, high-purpose organization when I was there. I am who I am today because of Vera. I’m very clear about that. It was a place where ideas mattered and where people took reform seriously. We cared about the outcomes and results. We were working at the cutting edge of a national reform movement. The two initiatives that I was privileged to be part of—bail reform and victim assistance—have now evolved into the New York City Criminal Justice Agency and Safe Horizon, which are major players in the criminal justice landscape of New York today. We’re so lucky that Vera had this philosophy of creating demonstration projects and spinning them off. That’s Vera’s legacy.

So being at Vera was an exciting time. It was also a time when there were a lot of different perspectives in the same room. We had sociologists, lawyers, police officers, formerly incarcerated folks, all around the same table talking about things like bail reform and victim assistance. It was a great way for a young person to get an education.

I first met you in the early ’90s, when you were at the NYPD.  At the time, the murder rate was peaking at more than 2,200 homicides per year, and the crack epidemic was still raging. It felt like a time of crisis. What was it like to be at the NYPD during those years? And how would you compare that time to our current moment, where the spike in violence has many people afraid that we are heading back to the bad old days?

We didn’t know in 1990 that we would be a year or two away from the peak of the violence in New York. On the contrary, we couldn’t see any end to the increase in violence, both in New York and nationally. The rise in violence, and homicides, in particular, had been very steep. This was the era when people were using words like “super predator” and predicting a coming bloodbath. It was a time of hyperbole that was really damaging. But the underlying reality of a significant increase in violence in America was undeniable. In New York, we peaked with a murder count of 2,245. 

I don't celebrate the relatively modest decline in the prison population in New York. I think we should accelerate it, then celebrate. I think we should be much more aggressive and much more creative in thinking about how to end the era of mass incarceration in our state. That's work left to be done. I'm very impatient with where we are right now.

In the first year of Mayor David Dinkins’s administration, there was a call from the New York Post: “Dave, Do Something!” Dinkins did something that was very important, which was to seek approval from the state legislature to increase our taxes to pay for more police officers. It was a remarkable political moment when you think about it. There was deep concern about our city’s future viability. It was a very trying time for civic life in New York. Businesses were leaving. People were leaving. There was a sense of concern bordering on despair. 

Looking back, you could say that there was a natural life course to the epidemic of violence. But I’d like to think there was some human agency involved as well. Police departments responded. Other parts of civil society also kicked in to say, “We’re not going to take this.” But that took some doing. The addition of police officers took some time. The mayor who benefited from that was mostly Rudolph Giuliani, not Dinkins.

The political moment of deciding that we couldn’t go on with this level of violence was something that has been seared in my memory ever since. When I compare that reality to today’s, the numbers are very different. We’re starting from a much lower base today. Starting in ’91 and ’92, violent crime in New York started to decline. Basically, it has come down almost every year since then, except for the last year. Now, we have seen an increase. Not in all crime, but in gun violence, which is very troubling, because what we’re talking about is lost lives. That has to be of concern to everybody. I have been very clear in speaking to others in the reform movement: we need to forthrightly acknowledge the reality of this spike, which is coming upon us very quickly. Depending upon the city, we’ve seen 10%, 20%, 30%, 40% increases in homicides. 

It’s a concern on two levels. One is the loss of life. We have to figure out what to do about it. But the other concern is that this has played into resistance to the criminal justice reform movement. It provides an opportunity for people to say, “Well, those reform ideas are responsible for the spike in violence.” That is not true, so we have to be in myth-busting mode here. But we also need to have both a hypothesis as to what’s causing the violence increase and a response to it that saves lives.

What’s your theory about what’s behind the spike in shootings?

There are some hypotheses floating around, not one of which has sufficient explanatory power for me. Are there more guns? Yes. Is that what’s causing a spike in violence? I doubt it. Are there more people being released from jail? Yes. Is that causing a spike in violence? I doubt it. 

The hypothesis that to me has the greatest potential for helping us understand what’s going on is very much derived from my understanding of the crack epidemic. Our current pandemic has been highly disruptive of community life, as was crack. The pandemic has taken young people away from prosocial environments like schools and afterschool programs. It has created stress and anxiety within our entire society, but particularly in communities that are living at the margins. It has caused police to withdraw from communities, for self-protective reasons related to COVID infection but also because they’re not feeling appreciated at the community level. 

All of these forces have resulted in a loss of support for prosocial, prosafety forces at a community level. Unfortunately, I think we’re going to be here for years with an increased level of violence. It is not going to be an easy fix. The good news for me is that in the years since the crack epidemic, we’ve learned so much about what might work and what might not. We have the ability now to put together a menu of strategies that’s quite different from what we put together in the late ’80s or early ’90s. That’s the challenge right now: to think carefully about what might be driving violence and about what we now can do that we didn’t know to do before. In particular, we need to avoid overreacting by increasing sentences and sending more people to prison, which is what we did in the ’80s and ’90s. Hopefully, we can come out of this both smarter and safer.

Back to the 90s for a second. One piece of the puzzle that you didn’t mention was that future NYPD commissioner William Bratton was starting to employ a “broken-windows” orientation to law enforcement as chief of what was then the city’s Transit Police Department. What did you think of broken windows then and what do you think of broken windows now?

Page for page, the broken windows article by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling, has had more impact than any other scholarly article in our field. It’s an idea that has sort of swept policing and, more broadly, public discourse. 

Hopefully, over time, we'll figure out how to do right by people coming out of prison. That extends into doing right by them when they're still in prison. 

I think it’s important to come back to the core idea of what broken windows is about: that order matters. People want to feel safe in their community. They want to be able to go about their business feeling that their neighborhood is safe and that things are being attended to. The broken window metaphor is a powerful one. 

The hypothesis within broken windows, which Kelling always said was a hypothesis, is that conditions of disorder, if left unaddressed, lead to more serious crime, and that addressing those conditions would lead to less crime. If you look at the academic literature over the last 20 years, that hypothesis has been challenged and, with a few exceptions, largely disproven.

But the core idea of broken windows—that government should respond to people’s concerns around issues of safety and well-being—is very strong to me. So what does that mean? That means the government should respond when there’s somebody who’s mentally ill. Government should respond to vacant lots. Government should respond to issues of excessive noise. Addressing those concerns will lead to a better quality of life for the community—an improved sense of well-being and feelings of safety—which is, by itself, a positive outcome. 

The risk of the broken-windows theory, and we’ve seen this play out, is when broken windows became “Broken Windows Policing.” The idea moved from a compelling theory to a way of driving the deployment of police resources. We saw lots of unfortunate outcomes grow out of this, particularly when it came to stop-and-frisk. There’s a trajectory here. Broken windows starts as a good idea. But then broken-windows policing becomes a way to rationalize aggressive police enforcement activities which were damaging, particularly to young people of color. Along the way, we lost the core idea—that government, not just the police, is responsible for working with communities to provide order and safety.

My North Star has always been a comment made by Herman Goldstein, father of problem-oriented policing, in a series that I hosted at NIJ called Measuring What Matters. At one point, we were talking about the metrics of success for policing. When asked what metrics he would recommend, Herman said, we should measure the success of policing one problem at a time. It’s the problem that matters, not the metrics of police activity. It’s not the number of stops. It’s not the number of arrests. For me, Herman hit the nail on the head, as he so often did in his own quiet way. When broken windows got married to the metrics of enforcement activities, that’s when we saw things go off the rails, in my view. The metrics became what mattered, rather than the problems.

Earlier, you framed the last 50 years as a kind of failure, as an era of punitive excess. Maybe this is a New York–centric worldview, but I have a counternarrative, which is that the last 30 years or so have been a time of enormous success for the criminal justice system. This was a story that you yourself talked about in a 2019 speech at New York Law School. In that speech, you documented not just the remarkable crime reduction that New York has experienced over the past 30 years, but a pretty significant incarceration reduction as well. 

Well, the reduction has to be seen against the backdrop of the ramp-up of incarceration that took place both here in New York and nationally. There was a significant increase in incarceration rates, from which we’re now making a decline. We have to tell both parts of the story. Do we call the ramp-up a success? Not in my book. Not by a long shot. In responding to crime, we have to use the deprivation of liberty carefully, surgically, and parsimoniously, to use my favorite word. We can’t reflexively say that we’re going to be “tough on crime” and put more people in prison for a longer period of time. That to me is a policy failure of the first order. Forget the enormous financial cost, the cost is harm to communities and harm to families.

So I don’t celebrate the relatively modest decline in the prison population in New York. I think we should accelerate it, then celebrate. I think we should be much more aggressive and much more creative in thinking about how to end the era of mass incarceration in our state. That’s work left to be done. I’m very impatient with where we are right now.

The jail story is different. In New York City, the jail reductions have been staggering. When I worked for Koch, we had 20,000 people in jail. Today, as we sit here, the number is around 5,000. The Lippman Commission is hoping that it will go down even further. We are approaching European-level jail incarceration rates [which are lower than American rates]. And let’s not forget the reductions in youth prisons in New York State. The Close to Home initiative of Governor [Andrew] Cuomo and Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg—started by Governor [David] Paterson and the task force that he asked me to chair—was an uncelebrated, staggering success story.

After leaving the NYPD, you joined the Clinton administration as the director of the National Institute of Justice. How do you feel when you see activists these days point to the 1994 Crime Bill and say that it was responsible for the rise of mass incarceration?

It’s a misreading of history to say the ’94 Crime Act is responsible for the era of mass incarceration. The National Academy of Sciences traces the rise of incarceration back to the early 1970s. The incarceration rate went up every year up until 2010. The ’94 Crime Act happened along the way and did play a minor role in the ramp-up, but no fair reading of history can make the case that the ’94 Crime Act was responsible for mass incarceration. 

As a Democrat, Bill Clinton saw the political necessity of running on a platform to do something about crime. His response was to increase the size of police departments and to advance community policing as a different way to police. His response resonated with me. I thought it was politically astute. 

There is a part of the crime act that I’ve critiqued, which was the truth in sentencing part of the act, which did provide financial incentives to states if they would change their sentencing statutes to move back the date of eligibility for parole to a longer percent of the maximum sentence, eighty-five percent typically. That has to be seen as one of the great perversions of federalism: the federal government paying states to keep citizens in prison longer. But in terms of the impact on incarceration rates, we have to remember that many states did not take the federal government up on this offer. In terms of the overall contribution to mass incarceration, it was very small.

One of the big things that you worked on when you were part of the Clinton administration, and then subsequently at the Urban Institute, was the challenge of individuals coming back to the community after a period of incarceration. You helped to popularize the idea of reentry. As you look back now, from a distance of twenty years or so, where do you think we are in terms of rethinking the reentry process?

I was struck by the bipartisan appetite for a policy discussion about new ways to improve reentry outcomes across the country. When the Clinton administration left office, George W. Bush came in and embraced the reentry agenda. They decided that money should be allocated in all fifty states to develop reentry councils to bring workforce development folks and health folks and corrections officials together to come up with reentry plans. So in a relatively short time, it really took hold in an impressive way. When Attorney General Janet Reno and I and others first started this work, there was very little discussion about reentry. The word didn’t exist. In a short time, this idea really took hold. 

I'm not sure it's worse today than in 2008, or that what I described in 2008 was any different from what you would say in the decades before that. I think what is new is the public discussion about race in the operations of the justice system.

One of the hopes that I and others had in doing the work on reentry, which I continued at Urban for the four years I was there, was to call attention to the reality that everybody in prison eventually comes home. By doing that, we wanted to highlight the reality that each of these people in prison is a human being—somebody’s father, son, sister, brother. These returning citizens, as we now call them, are entitled to our support because of their humanity. The journey from prison to community is a tough road.

There’s still a long way to go. Has the parole system changed? Has supervision changed? Has our approach to the supports needed for people coming out of prison—has that changed? Not much. Parole, in my view, needs to be reimagined. Hopefully, over time, we’ll figure out how to do right by people coming out of prison. That extends into doing right by them when they’re still in prison. We need to involve their families and communities in very different ways so that the return home is a welcome home, rather than a drop-off, which is too often the case. 

One of the consistent through lines in your career has been your interest in the challenge of race. In a 2008 speech, you said, “The day-to-day operations of our system of justice now penetrate so deeply into communities of color that we are at risk of undermining basic respect for the rule of law.” That seems prescient to me. It feels like something has broken between the justice system and the Black community, or at least segments of the Black community. 

I’m not sure it’s worse today than in 2008, or that what I described in 2008 was any different from what you would say in the decades before that. I think what is new is the public discussion about race in the operations of the justice system. I’m very encouraged by this discussion. It’s raw and it’s uncomfortable for lots of people. It requires a discussion about history and about present-day harm that is sometimes very difficult. But we need to have those discussions. We really, really do. 

I talked in that speech about the rule of law and respect for the rule of law. That’s a big concept. It really is the relationship between government and the governed. [Yale law professor] Monica Bell has a phrase for this, which I find very useful, which is “legal estrangement.” Monica’s phrase is so powerful. There is a deep estrangement between Black communities and their government, particularly around law enforcement. It goes back decades. Why should we be surprised that this divide exists when the agencies of the law have done so much harm, whether it’s beating civil rights protesters or arresting lots of young men and taking them off to prison or other examples of police brutality. 

There’s now a call for a reckoning with that history. So we’re tearing down statues of Confederate generals. We’re thinking deeply, thanks to Bryan Stevenson, about the history of lynching. Let’s not forget that the Tulsa race massacre included moments when law enforcement officers allowed the mob to take people out of a jail to lynch them. Many lynching stories start with a judge or a jailer allowing that to happen. So it’s hard to have respect for the rule of law when the law allows such things to happen.

I think the fundamental question is what, if anything, can government do to bridge this divide and to counteract the realities of legal estrangement. The burden shouldn’t be placed on the Black community to do that work. Of course, they’re welcomed to this discussion. But it’s really upon those who have worked in government, as I have, to ask some pretty deep questions about what we’ve done. Have we caused harm? That discussion is very uncomfortable for many of our colleagues. 

Over the years, you’ve chosen to make a deep professional investment in the focused deterrence model. In recent months, I’ve been talking to a fair number of academics who seem to have an ax to grind with focused deterrence. Have their criticisms reached your ears? And if they have, how do you respond to them?

The criticism has been around for as long as focused deterrence has been around. 

At its core, focused deterrence is, as its name implies, a very focused look at a small number of individuals who are involved in the dynamic of violence in their communities. Focused deterrence engages with those individuals very directly, with an acknowledgment of concern on behalf of the community. The message is that we care about you, and that we want you to live. Alongside that message is an offer of assistance from the service providers who are part of this program. At the same time, there is also a statement about consequences—that if the violence continues, there will be consequences. What I like about the model is the focus on a small number of individuals with clear communication. 

The research shows very strongly that the focused deterrence intervention reduces violence and saves lives.

In the program’s early days, there was this celebrated case—in Boston, I think—where somebody was sent off to prison for a long time for possessing a bullet. To me, that is excessive. That runs counter to my general beliefs about overreach of state power. The missing part of focused deterrence in its early formulation was some sense of true community engagement. There have been efforts over the years to build up the community engagement piece of the model. Some cities are more successful at that than others. 

But research is the beginning and ending point of my analysis here. And the research shows very strongly that the focused deterrence intervention reduces violence and saves lives. All the metrics that we care about are going in the right direction under focused deterrence. So I would consider focused deterrence to be a necessary part of every crime strategy. Ideally, there will be a combination of strategies that a city can deploy to reduce violence. I hope we are now beyond a point where people have to pick and choose between focused deterrence and Cure Violence or some other type of intervention. I think we’re on the cusp of an era where all of these can be thought of as being mutually supportive. 

What President Biden is doing is just along these lines. We need police and we need community interventions. We shouldn’t be pointing fingers at each other. The police have a lot to learn about how to be humble and how to share the table with others. Community groups have something to learn about working effectively with the police. And the research community has a lot to learn about how to do research in a more comprehensive sort of way. 

Like you, I’m a believer in trying to reduce the use of incarceration. I’m also a believer in the core insight of the broken windows theory that maintaining a sense of public order is important. So help me think through what we should be doing about public urination, aggressive panhandling, public drinking, and the kinds of cases that we used to call quality-of-life offending. If we’re not going to respond to those offenses with a criminal justice sanction, or even a fine, how do we as a society communicate that we don’t want people to be engaging in these behaviors in the public square? 

Well, the first answer is we don’t communicate that only through the power of arrest. We like to turn to the police to solve all of our social problems. Sometimes that’s the right thing to do, but often not. We need to expand the menu of options. 

One of the things I’m very proud of is the work that we did through the Misdemeanor Justice Project. We brought public attention to the fact that criminal summonses were being issued for really minor offenses. The response of the [New York] city council, thankfully, was to transform those from criminal summonses to civil summonses. That, to me, was a very important step in the right direction. We then run into some more complicated questions, such as what do you do with somebody who continuously thumbs their nose at those summonses?

As you know, in New York, you have people engaging in this behavior not once or twice but on dozens of occasions.

At some point, I think that’s when I would say, okay, that pattern of behavior does warrant a criminal sanction. But even then, arresting somebody for a minor offense, what does that allow you to do as a criminal justice response? Not much. A night in jail, maybe. 

Pause there for a second because I feel like the conversation about this often focuses on individual deterrence, as opposed to general deterrence. Maybe you will disagree, but I think there is value in sending a message not just to the individual involved in something like public urination but to the people that are seeing this behavior on their streets.

Again, this is a claim on government. The public is saying to their government, “Do something.” We need more tools in the toolbox. The way that you and I know each other best is through the work of the Midtown Community Court and other problem-solving courts, which expand the responses available to judges to deal with individual circumstances and needs. That should be commonplace across the system. 

Now we get to a larger social policy question about the shortfall of mental health services, of employment, of job opportunities. The entire social safety net in this country is very weak, unfortunately. 

This next generation is responding to the call to make things better. That's not just the research community but the legal community and the advocacy community. The people are now literally in the streets calling for change.

Channeling Herman Goldstein, I would start by asking what’s going on with that individual who is engaged in public urination? What’s the problem? I tend to believe in the value of assessing the underlying dynamics. How did that person go off course? What is the best intervention for that person? How can we provide that? In New York, police can now bring somebody to a center instead of the precinct. They can get a bed and stay overnight. They can work on issues of addiction. 

But we still don’t have enough options in our toolkit. We need more alternatives for low-level misconduct that send the signal, which is so important, that this conduct is not welcomed. It doesn’t mean that we exile somebody. We would rather help you than jail you. 

In a 1998 speech that you made at John Jay College, you bemoaned the state of criminal justice research. You faulted the field for not having good answers to the question of why crime had declined. You also characterized researchers as scoffing at the idea that police could have any impact on crime. I’m curious to hear what your sense of the state of the field is today. Has the state of criminal justice research improved since ’98?

No question, it is better now than it was then. We have a long way to go, particularly in terms of our data infrastructure. We don’t have the ability to track events in real time. We’re feeling that loss right now as we try to understand this spike in gun homicides. 

But I think the research community has made great strides since 1998. We now have the ability to look at our history of incarceration, in particular, and think about the trends. In the Square One Project, we start each one of our roundtables with a paper by a historian, to try to help us understand our own history. 

The interest in criminal justice is high right now. It is front and center in the national discussion. Every presidential candidate on the Democratic side had something to say about criminal justice reform. That’s never happened before. So it’s high on the agenda and that means that emerging scholars are turning their attention to these issues. I think there’s still a narrowness in some of the criminal justice research that is very system-centric, rather than looking at the larger societal forces. That’s unfortunate. We miss the proverbial forest for the trees too often. But we’ve come a long way. The federal funding for research has made a big difference. 

People now want to go into criminal justice reform in large numbers. People are dedicating their lives to justice reform because the injustices are so vivid and so palpable—both through human stories but also through the data. This next generation is responding to the call to make things better. That’s not just the research community but the legal community and the advocacy community. The people are now literally in the streets calling for change.

In preparing for this interview, I went back and read many of the things that you have written over the years. One of the qualities that comes across most powerfully in your writing is a certain earnestness. I’m wondering whether that is intentional. If you were going to point to the values that you are trying to put forward in your writing and your speechmaking, what would be on that list? 

Above all, independent inquiry: taking a close and honest look at some of the issues that we face, most broadly in our society but more specifically in the criminal justice system. I have always tried to step back and take an independent look at a question or a trend or a policy proposition so that we can make it better. The goal is always progress, improvement, having government that works, and making things better for people and for communities. As I’m reflecting on a long, long journey, what I’ve always wanted to do is to be in the fray, but removed enough to be able to comment on what I’ve seen. That’s hard. That’s why I teach, that’s why I write, that’s why I care about research.

Greg Berman is the Distinguished Fellow of Practice at The Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation. He previously served as the executive director of the Center for Court Innovation for 18 years. His most recent book is Start Here: A Road Map to Reducing Mass Incarceration (The New Press).

Views expressed are the participants’ own and not necessarily those of The Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation.

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