Join Our Digital Town Hall Meeting

Where we’ll discuss several facets of criminal justice reform with experts, thought leaders, and YOU!

elizabeth tobey
Mar 2, 2016 · 4 min read
Getty Images

Over the next couple of weeks, many folks — from policy leaders and experts to the formerly incarcerated — will be sharing their personal experiences and thoughts on how we might reform the U.S. criminal justice system. In addition to the amazing pieces we’re already seeing on Medium (and the great conversations they are sparking), we wanted to convene the Medium community to have a live, real-time discussion about these issues.

A digital Town Hall meeting, which was actually proposed to us by a Medium user, seemed like the right idea. Town Halls are typically community events, where individuals can learn about current issues, engage with other members of the community, voice their opinions, present ideas for possible solutions, and ask questions of experts and leaders. Imagine a live-blogging event, but instead of hearing from only a couple journalists, anyone on the platform can ask questions and share their own expertise and personal experiences on the topics we’re discussing.

Our Town Hall will be broken up into two days: The first day we’ll discuss some of the problems and issues within the criminal justice system; the second day we will focus on some solutions. There are so many aspects of criminal justice reform we’d like to address, but we had to narrow it down to a few larger questions and topic areas. All of the questions below were proposed to us by members of the Medium community. We helped them organize a panel of thought leaders to kick off the discussion — and now we need your help to move the conversation forward.

Follow our Town Hall publication and tune in at the various times below to engage in the Town Hall meeting. If you have a question in advance, respond to this post. Otherwise, feel free to join the discussion by sharing your thoughts and opinions. @mention one of our panelists during the discussion to direct your question. Highlight respond to specific lines that you have questions about or resonate with you. All thoughts and opinions are welcome; we want a diverse and varied conversation with a wide array of opinions. We’re all passionate and deeply invested in this topic, so please be respectful and thoughtful to your fellow Mediumites.

This is the first live, digital Town Hall meeting we’ve organized, so we might have to improvise where needed and make up some of our own rules as we go along. Bear with us — and thank you for helping us make this great!


Wednesday, March 9

10am PST/1pm EST — 12pm PST/ 3pm EST

Why are federal prisoners disproportionately people of color? How does that affect discussions around reforms?

Nazgol Ghandnoosh from The Sentencing Project and Sakira Cook from The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

This panel will examine the cascade of racial disparities throughout the criminal justice system and provide possible solutions for mitigating them. Why are U.S. prisoners disproportionately people of color? Racial minorities are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences. In the federal system, African Americans and Hispanics comprise over 70 percent of the prisoner population. What are the best practices for reducing racial disparities in the state and federal systems? What specific reforms are needed in policing, prosecutorial practices, and sentencing? How do questions of race affect discussions around reform?


1pm PST/4pm EST — 3pm PST/6pm EST

What drives police officers to abuse their power? How do you encourage good behavior in police departments?

Aviva Shen from Think Progress, Simone Weichselbaum from The Marshall Project, Joanna Schwartz from UCLA School of Law, John Fisher of Those People, and Carl Tennenbaum, a retired Sergeant of the SFPD

This panel will focus on how to meaningfully reform police departments, addressing where the pitfalls are now — for example, the culture of police unions, the obsession with crime stats, the lack of internal discipline — and where we can go from here. We can discuss the bogus “Ferguson Effect” — the idea that public scrutiny on their actions discourages cops from doing their jobs. Broader questions will include: What drives police officers to abuse their power? How do you encourage good behavior in police departments? Why is it so hard to hold police officers accountable for their performance?


Thursday, March 10

10am PST/1pm EST — 12pm PST/3pm EST

How far would this Sentencing Reform Act take us in ending mass incarceration? What can the federal government learn from states that have already implemented similar reforms?

Jeremy Haile from The Sentencing Project, Michael Collins from Drug Policy Alliance, Diane Goldstein from LEAP, Jesselyn McCurdy from the ACLU, and Heather Rice-Minus from Prison Fellowship

This panel will focus on federal sentencing reform legislation, specifically S. 2123, which was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee in October. What would be the impact of the legislation in terms of reducing prison populations and addressing racial disparities in the federal system? How does S. 2123 draw on state level reforms? How far would this reform take us in ending mass incarceration?


1pm PST/4pm EST — 3pm PST/6pm EST

If we are calling addiction a disease, what kinds of alternatives can be used in lieu of prison?

Matt Mendoza from Addiction Unscripted, Paul Larkin of The Heritage Foundation, Michael G. Santos of Earning Freedom, Seth Ferranti, Irving Schattner, LCSW, Stanton Peele from The Influence

Many believe that the War on Drugs failed — that we need to use rehabilitation rather than punitive actions to help those who are in prison for drug-related crimes. If we are calling addiction a disease, what are the alternatives that can be used in lieu of prison? Do we keep sending people to AA or 12-step programs? What does the science say about the best treatment for drug addiction?

elizabeth tobey

Written by

East coaster with a secret SF love affair. I enjoy juxtaposing things. Also: Cheese and tiny dachshunds.

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