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

Biology
“Pussypedia” Demystifies the Female Anatomy
Pussypedia
Biology
“Pussypedia” Demystifies the Female Anatomy
“Pussypedia” is a free, bilingual, gender-inclusive encyclopedia of highly accurate, easy-to-understand women’s health resources.

“Pussypedia” is a free, bilingual, gender-inclusive encyclopedia of highly accurate, easy-to-understand women’s health resources.

Global Impact
Conversations with Refugees
Conversations with Refugees
Global Impact
Conversations with Refugees
Aline Sara is changing the conversation around what it means to be a refugee by talking — literally. Through her...

Aline Sara is changing the conversation around what it means to be a refugee by talking — literally. Through her startup, NaTakallam (Arabic for "we talk"), Aline pairs refugees with people from other countries who want to learn their language. The "conversation partners" chat over Whatsapp or Skype to improve their Arabic or Spanish. But Aline says that people gain more than just language skills: it is foreign language...

Global Impact
Rock Climbers Help Refugees in America
Rock climbers help refugees in America learn skills for the challenges of their new lives
Global Impact
Rock Climbers Help Refugees in America
This nonprofit is teaching refugees in America how to rock climb - helping displaced children better face new challenges and transition to life in the U.S.

This nonprofit is teaching refugees in America how to rock climb - helping displaced children better face new challenges and transition to life in the U.S.

Catalysts
OGU: Original Gangsters United Ending Gang Violence
Can Former Bloods and Crips Unite to Break the Cycle of Violence?
Watch Now
Catalysts
OGU: Original Gangsters United Ending Gang Violence
For the children of Dallas, these ex gang leaders may be their only chance.
Watch Now

What do you get when former Bloods and Crips gang leaders come together? Original Gangsters United, a pathway to ending gang opposition, promoting peace, and saving younger generations from senseless violence. Antong Lucky is a former Bloods gang leader in Dallas, Texas. Like most children, Antong never aspired to be a part of a gang or to end up in prison. But sadly, many communities affected by peer pressure and gang violence leave kids with no choice. When Antong left prison, he began working to bring opposing Dallas gang leaders together to put an end to gang violence. And it worked.

Catalysts
How This Non-Profit Weaves a Family of Support for Struggling Teens in Baltimore
How This Non-Profit Weaves a Family of Support for Struggling Teens in Baltimore
Catalysts
How This Non-Profit Weaves a Family of Support for Struggling Teens in Baltimore
“Everyone - no matter their age, race, or background - needs a network of supportive relationships to help them...

“Everyone - no matter their age, race, or background - needs a network of supportive relationships to help them thrive.”

Helping Prisoners Overcome Trauma with Dance
Helping Prisoners Overcome Trauma with Dance
Watch Now
Helping Prisoners Overcome Trauma with Dance
Women in prison are regaining a sense of freedom — through dance.
Watch Now

Dance to Be Free is a program helping female prisoners overcome trauma with dance. While the inmates at the Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Corrections are physically incarcerated, the freedom that comes through dance helps them open up, enjoy themselves, and regain self-confidence. Founder Lucy Wallace began teaching dance in prison in order to help inmates, who often had unaddressed PTSD from physical or emotional...