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Charged
Cover of Charged
Charged
The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration
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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
  • A renowned journalist and legal commentator exposes the unchecked power of the prosecutor as a driving force in America's mass incarceration crisis—and charts a way out.
    "An important, thoughtful, and thorough examination of criminal justice in America that speaks directly to how we reduce mass incarceration."—Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy

    "This harrowing, often enraging book is a hopeful one, as well, profiling innovative new approaches and the frontline advocates who champion them."—Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted
    FINALIST FOR THE LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK PRIZE
  • SHORTLISTED FOR THE J. ANTHONY LUKAS BOOK PRIZE
  • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR
  • The New York Public Library
  • Library Journal Publishers Weekly Kirkus Reviews

    The American criminal justice system is supposed to be a contest between two equal adversaries, the prosecution and the defense, with judges ensuring a fair fight. That image of the law does not match the reality in the courtroom, however. Much of the time, it is prosecutors more than judges who control the outcome of a case, from choosing the charge to setting bail to determining the plea bargain. They often decide who goes free and who goes to prison, even who lives and who dies. In Charged, Emily Bazelon reveals how this kind of unchecked power is the underreported cause of enormous injustice—and the missing piece in the mass incarceration puzzle.
    Charged follows the story of two young people caught up in the criminal justice system: Kevin, a twenty-year-old in Brooklyn who picked up his friend's gun as the cops burst in and was charged with a serious violent felony, and Noura, a teenage girl in Memphis indicted for the murder of her mother. Bazelon tracks both cases—from arrest and charging to trial and sentencing—and, with her trademark blend of deeply reported narrative, legal analysis, and investigative journalism, illustrates just how criminal prosecutions can go wrong and, more important, why they don't have to.
    Bazelon also details the second chances they prosecutors can extend, if they choose, to Kevin and Noura and so many others. She follows a wave of reform-minded D.A.s who have been elected in some of our biggest cities, as well as in rural areas in every region of the country, put in office to do nothing less than reinvent how their job is done. If they succeed, they can point the country toward a different and profoundly better future.
  • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
  • A renowned journalist and legal commentator exposes the unchecked power of the prosecutor as a driving force in America's mass incarceration crisis—and charts a way out.
    "An important, thoughtful, and thorough examination of criminal justice in America that speaks directly to how we reduce mass incarceration."—Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy

    "This harrowing, often enraging book is a hopeful one, as well, profiling innovative new approaches and the frontline advocates who champion them."—Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted
    FINALIST FOR THE LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK PRIZE
  • SHORTLISTED FOR THE J. ANTHONY LUKAS BOOK PRIZE
  • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR
  • The New York Public Library
  • Library Journal Publishers Weekly Kirkus Reviews

    The American criminal justice system is supposed to be a contest between two equal adversaries, the prosecution and the defense, with judges ensuring a fair fight. That image of the law does not match the reality in the courtroom, however. Much of the time, it is prosecutors more than judges who control the outcome of a case, from choosing the charge to setting bail to determining the plea bargain. They often decide who goes free and who goes to prison, even who lives and who dies. In Charged, Emily Bazelon reveals how this kind of unchecked power is the underreported cause of enormous injustice—and the missing piece in the mass incarceration puzzle.
    Charged follows the story of two young people caught up in the criminal justice system: Kevin, a twenty-year-old in Brooklyn who picked up his friend's gun as the cops burst in and was charged with a serious violent felony, and Noura, a teenage girl in Memphis indicted for the murder of her mother. Bazelon tracks both cases—from arrest and charging to trial and sentencing—and, with her trademark blend of deeply reported narrative, legal analysis, and investigative journalism, illustrates just how criminal prosecutions can go wrong and, more important, why they don't have to.
    Bazelon also details the second chances they prosecutors can extend, if they choose, to Kevin and Noura and so many others. She follows a wave of reform-minded D.A.s who have been elected in some of our biggest cities, as well as in rural areas in every region of the country, put in office to do nothing less than reinvent how their job is done. If they succeed, they can point the country toward a different and profoundly better future.
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    Excerpts-
    • From the book Prosecution in America is at a crossroads. It arrived there because, over the last 40 years, the power of American prosecutors grew to an alarming degree. They amassed more power than our system was designed for. And they mostly used it to put more people in prison, contributing to the scourge of mass incarceration, which continues to rip apart poor communities, especially if they are mostly black or brown.

      The unfettered power of prosecutors is the missing piece for explaining how the rate of incarceration in the United States has quintupled since the 1980s, to almost 2.2 million. Our level of imprisonment is five to 10 times higher than that of other liberal democracies—nine times Germany's and seven times France's. There's more: When the system misfires in the worst way possible, by convicting an innocent person, a prosecutor's errors (or less frequently, willful misconduct) often account for the breakdown, at least in part. And when black defendants are punished more severely than white defendants for similar crimes, the choices of prosecutors are largely to blame. Though they're not the only ones at fault, their decisions are the ones that matter most of all.

      Jail and prison have a role to play in our society. Some people do scary things—not that many relatively speaking, but some—and a subset cause unconscionable harm. The overuse of incarceration, however, has become a source of tremendous suffering in its own right. Over-incarceration, lifetime consequences, government overreach, racial disparity—these are American disasters, adding up to one of the most pressing problems of our time.. They have not been fixed, not by any means. In many places in the country, they haven't even been addressed. Our justice system regularly operates as a system of injustice, grinding out unwarranted and counterproductive levels of punishment. This is, in large part, because of the outsize role prosecutors now play. "The power imbalance blew my mind frankly: I couldn't figure out for the life of me how prosecutors had so much power with so little accountability," said Angela J. Davis, a law professor who was formerly the director of the public defender service in Washington, D.C., and the author of a 2007 book about prosecutors. "They were allowed to do things, some unconstitutional, some perfectly legal but with horrific results that most human beings would think were unfair. I thought, How can this be?"

      We often think of prosecutors and defense lawyers as points of a triangle on the same plane, with the judge poised above them. Equal contest, level playing field, neutral arbiter, etc. That image is entirely out of date. That's not how the system works anymore. Much of the time, prosecutors, more than judges, control the outcome of a case. They answer to no one else and make most of the key decisions in a case, from choosing the charge to making the bail demand to determining the plea bargain. The officer in uniform and the judge in robes are our indelible images of criminal justice. No one needs to explain the power they wield. Yet it is Caryn Teitelman, in her pantsuit and ballet flats, who today embodies the might and majesty of the state. "It's all about discretion," says Eric Gonzalez, the district attorney of Brooklyn and Teitelman's boss. "Do you authorize the arrest, request bail, argue to keep them in jail or let them out, go all out on the charges or take a plea bargain? Prosecutors decide, especially, who gets a second chance."

      Here's the thing: prosecutors also hold the key to change. They can protect against convicting the innocent. They can guard against racial bias. They can curtail mass...
    About the Author-
    • Emily Bazelon is a staff  writer at The New York Times Magazine, the Truman Capote Fellow for Creative Writing and Law, and a lecturer at Yale Law School. Her previous book is the national bestseller  Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy. She's also a co-host of the  Slate Political Gabfest, a popular weekly podcast. Before joining the  Times  Magazine, Emily was a writer and editor at  Slate, where she co-founded the women's section  "DoubleX." She lives in New Haven, Connecticut.
    Reviews-
    • Library Journal

      November 1, 2018

      A staff writer for the New York Times Magazine, Yale Law-trained Bazelon argues that prosecutors have far too much power, which contributes to the mass incarceration problem. Correcting that problem means reshaping the role of prosecutor, which some reform-minded souls have done on election to that office--election being the key word here, which means we the people can have a say.

      Copyright 2018 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

    • Kirkus

      February 15, 2019
      A lawyer and journalist exposes flaws in the criminal justice system, with an emphasis on the untrammeled power of local prosecutors.Because the United States contains several thousand prosecutor jurisdictions (mostly at the county level), identifying misconduct is often difficult. In this potent book, New York Times Magazine writer Bazelon (Yale Law School; Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy, 2013) emphasizes prosecutors who care more about winning convictions rather than upholding their sworn duty of seeking justice. The author makes a convincing argument that if there were a larger number of justice-seeking prosecutors, we could reduce incarceration by a substantial percentage in a nation overwhelmed by prison costs. In addition, individual lives would no longer be derailed by criminal charges that are unnecessarily severe or even downright false. Bazelon aims her book at nonlawyer voters as well as defense attorneys, judges, police officers, social workers, prison wardens, and others in the criminal justice system. A clear message that resonates throughout the book: Never confuse the law with common sense. The author narrates her impressively researched book primarily through two defendants. One is Noura Jackson, a Memphis resident who was 18 when she was charged with the murder of her mother. Despite no physical evidence of guilt or eyewitness testimony, Jackson went to prison. Believing in Jackson's innocence, Bazelon wrote about the case in August 2017. Based on the extensive evidence she gathered, the author rightly demonizes the Memphis district attorney, the trial judge, and other law enforcement personnel in the Jackson prosecution. The author also explores the plight of Kevin (a pseudonym), a teenager arrested on a gun charge in Brooklyn. As Bazelon makes abundantly clear through her cogent, credible arguments, a sensible, compassionate system never would have arrested or prosecuted Kevin. Throughout the two narratives, the author demonstrates occasional optimism due to the election of reform-minded prosecutors in a few cities. The appendix, "Twenty-One Principles for Twenty-First-Century Prosecutors," is also helpful.A vitally important new entry in the continued heated debates about criminal justice.

      COPYRIGHT(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

    • Publisher's Weekly

      Starred review from March 18, 2019
      In this timely exploration, Bazelon, a staff writer for the New York Times Magazine, argues that “the unfettered power of prosecutors is the missing piece for explaining how the number of people incarcerated in the United States has quintupled since the 1980s.” Bazelon skillfully illustrates this idea by following the developments in two gripping cases with novelistic intensity. In the first, an old-school prosecutor’s win-at-any-cost philosophy and questionable ethical behavior results in the conviction of a young Tennessee woman charged with a brutal murder, which is unanimously overturned by an appellate court years later because of prosecutorial misconduct. The second features the opposite: under a policy intended to reduce incarceration rates developed by a progressive district attorney in Brooklyn, a young man facing a gun possession charge pursues diversion (a rehabilitation program) rather than a two-year minimum sentence. Bazelon adeptly explains the culture that drives traditional district attorneys and the philosophies of reform-minded district attorneys, then briefly delves into the difficulty of preventing prosecutorial misconduct, the inequities of a bail system that effectively criminalizes poverty, systemic racial disparities, the sociological arguments for diversion, and how severe mandatory sentences distort the criminal justice system. Then, with modest optimism, she presents a road map for the emerging reform movement. This is a powerful indictment of the traditional prosecution model. Agent: Elyse Cheney, Elyse Cheney Literary Associates.

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    The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration
    Emily Bazelon
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