Skip to main content
Move the World.

Emily Bazelon's new book Charged: The New Movement To Transform American Prosecution And End Mass Incarceration is an incredible tour de force that guides readers through America's broken criminal justice system through the eyes of two young people as they go through the system.

The book reveals the breathtaking amount of power prosecutors wield in our modern legal system and highlights the ways that some reform-minded District Attorneys are using that power to bring change to a broken system.

“Our classic image of the American justice system is a triangle where there's a judge at the top and the defense lawyer here and the prosecutor here,” Bazelon explains. But what has happened since the 1960s is that we have increasingly tied judges hands in order to ensure tougher sentences and shifted that power towards prosecutors, something Bazelon thinks has gone largely unnoticed by the public. “There's just this real shift in the power dynamics in the legal system going on and it's invisible to people outside of it. We just haven't paid enough attention. But that's the reality every day in court.”

Freethink sat down with Emily to learn more about her book and this new and this emerging class of district attorneys like Mark Dupree in Kansas City, who has begun requiring his team to be more transparent with defendants about the evidence police have collected against them, Larry Krasner in Philadelphia, the defense attorney and community activist who has pushed his team to seek shorter sentences, declined to prosecute low-level offenses like marijuana possession, and reform cash bail, and Eric Gonzalez in Brooklyn who has been working to expunge misdemeanor marijuana convictions.

But these reforms aren’t easy, even with this power. Krasner has faced lawsuits from the police union and Gonzalez acknowledged last month that the expungement process was going much slower than anticipated -- while thousands of convictions were eligible, his office has only fielded "a few dozen applications".

But, Bazelon says this new class of prosecutors is headed in the right direction. “Our criminal justice system is at a crossroads because we've created this huge punishment machine. And it's still functioning and grinding along every day. But there's increasing awareness and interest in taking apart that machine by electing a different kind of people to run the criminal justice system. We can change the whole shape of the criminal justice system with people who we elect locally without changing a single law.”

Up Next

Human Nature
Advice from a Death Doula: Unlocking Life Before Death
Advice from a Death Doula: Unlocking Life Before Death
Human Nature
Advice from a Death Doula: Unlocking Life Before Death
Talking about death can actually make it a much less frightening topic. Here’s how working with a death doula or attending a local death cafe can help.

Talking about death can actually make it a much less frightening topic. Here’s how working with a death doula or attending a local death cafe can help.

Thinking Differently
Angels of Debt
Angels of Debt
Watch Now
Thinking Differently
Angels of Debt
These ex-bill collectors got John Oliver's attention and started a movement. They're buying hundreds of millions of dollars worth of strangers' medical debt and erasing it.
Watch Now

The average American is one medical accident away from being destroyed financially. These bill collectors woke up to the brutality of their industry - and are using their insider knowledge to save strangers from hundreds of millions of dollars in debt. Jerry Ashton was a debt collector working on Wall Street when the Occupy Wall Street movement started. He became interested, and eventually partnered with them and his friend...

#fixingjustice - Re-entry
The Ride Home from Prison
The Ride Home from Prison
#fixingjustice - Re-entry
The Ride Home from Prison
The "Ride Home Program" sends drivers to pick up former inmates on their first day of freedom to help ensure a...

The "Ride Home Program" sends drivers to pick up former inmates on their first day of freedom to help ensure a smooth transition in those first few critical hours.

Why the 6th Most Dangerous City is Turning to Community Policing
Why the 6th Most Dangerous City is Turning to Community Policing
Watch Now
Why the 6th Most Dangerous City is Turning to Community Policing
Police departments around the country are increasingly looking at community policing programs as a tool to help reestablish trust in the communities they serve.
Watch Now

While community policing programs are nothing new, they fell out of popularity after a big push in the early 90s due to shifting priorities and budget crunches of the Great Recession. But with growing scrutiny of police and their often strained relationships with minority communities, police departments are increasingly looking to community policing programs to bridge the gap and rebuild trust. The Rockford Police...

Coalfield Development
Rebuilding Coal Country
Rebuilding Coal Country
Watch Now
Coalfield Development
Rebuilding Coal Country
Meet the nonprofit bringing jobs back to coal country.
Watch Now

Coalfield Development is a nonprofit on a mission to unlock the resources and potential of coal country. Partnering with local entrepreneurs, they've helped launch six new businesses and trained hundreds of workers across Appalachia. They provide education and training for unemployed workers, from college courses to trade skills, and partner with businesses to help them succeed on the job. The coal jobs might not be coming...

The Violinist Playing for Freedom in Venezuela
The Violinist Playing for Freedom in Venezuela
Watch Now
The Violinist Playing for Freedom in Venezuela
Venezuelan violinist Wuilly Arteaga has been beaten and arrested, but it hasn’t stopped him from using music to help bring freedom to his country
Watch Now

When Wuilly Arteaga, a Venezuelan violin virtuoso, joined protests with just his instrument, he was beaten and arrested. But that hasn’t stopped him from using music to help bring freedom to his country.

Pop Revolution
How Skate Punks are Ushering in a New Era of Freedom in Myanmar
How Skate Punks are Ushering in a New Era of Freedom in Myanmar
Pop Revolution
How Skate Punks are Ushering in a New Era of Freedom in Myanmar
For decades, Myanmar, also known as Burma, was ruled by a repressive military junta. Then, in 2011, things began to...
By Michael O'Shea

For decades, Myanmar, also known as Burma, was ruled by a repressive military junta. Then, in 2011, things began to change.

Teaser of The Hidden Side of “Slum” Life
Teaser of The Hidden Side of “Slum” Life
Watch Now
Teaser of The Hidden Side of “Slum” Life
One of the most significant transformations in humankind is underway but largely going untold.
Watch Now

One of the most significant transformations in humankind is underway but largely going untold. Fueled by advances in technology and innovation, global poverty has been slashed in half over the last decade with predictions that it will be eradicated over the next. From makeshift cities to smart phones to water purification to the blockchain, join us as we travel the world to see firsthand how entrepreneurship is lifting...

Culture
This Week in Ideas: A $1 Microscope, Healing Our Divisions, Planet Earth is Back
This Week in Ideas: A $1 Microscope, Healing Our Divisions, Planet Earth is Back
Culture
This Week in Ideas: A $1 Microscope, Healing Our Divisions, Planet Earth is Back
Democratizing microscopes, how we heal our political divisions, and BBC's Planet Earth returns. These are our...
By Mike Riggs

Democratizing microscopes, how we heal our political divisions, and BBC's Planet Earth returns. These are our favorite stories of the week.