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Transforming the Justice System: TASC among Contributing Experts at American University Symposium

(Washington, DC) — TASC is working with the American University School of Public Affairs (SPA) and its Justice Programs Office on initiatives to transform the justice system, including furthering recommendations generated at a recent symposium convened by SPA.

TASC Chief Counsel Michele Worobiec was among the experts invited to participate in the symposium, which included a cross section of representatives from police departments, courts, and corrections as well as SPA staff, faculty, and students.

The resulting May 2019 reportTransforming the U.S. Justice System: Rejecting the Status Quo, Speeding the Pace of Reform—includes recommendations to transform the system into one that is more just and fair.

American University's Transforming the U.S. Justice System: Rejecting the Status Quo, Speeding the Pace of Reform

The U.S. justice system is actually an amalgam of more than 18,000 separate and siloed jurisdictions that operate the nation’s courts, prisons, and jails.

“There is no CEO to manage the entire system, and there is concern that those working in the core system components (police, courts, corrections) lack a shared vision for the future,” said John Firman, SPA professor of practice and symposium convener. “We wanted to bring experts with different perspectives and backgrounds together to develop a blueprint for a seamless and just system.”

Symposium participants discussed trends, including patterns of racial and ethnic bias, prosecutorial discretion, and high incarceration and recidivism rates, and proposed evidence-based solutions for consideration of leaders and policymakers.

"The symposium convened by American University revealed the breadth of our shared values across separate jurisdictions and fields, as well as the importance of rejecting the status quo and speeding up reforms,” said Worobiec. “The high-level experts that consulted on this project represent a growing body of knowledge and programmatic success. Now it's time to address the urgency of the work and making reform happen.”

The U.S. spends $270 billion a year on its criminal justice system—70 percent more than two decades ago, the report notes. Despite crime being at historic lows, the nation has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world. Today, nearly 2.3 million people are in prison and jails; another 4.7 million are under court supervision.

“It’s not that we have more crime. It’s that we have made a choice to incarcerate more people,” said Anne Milgram, professor of practice and distinguished scholar-in-residence at New York University School of Law, who provided the keynote at the symposium.

The report includes 10 transformational values viewed as crucial to system-wide reform, such as equality in administration, equity and inclusion in the workforce, provision of sufficient resources, community partnerships, leadership, and training. Recommendations to establish public trust and transform the system include the following:

  • Embracing equity and inclusion in police diversity. Police departments should reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. Diversity within the police force can have a direct impact on how communities view, engage, and support their local departments.
  • Eliminating cash bail. Research and policy work by global and U.S.-based organizations, including major justice system actors, has repeatedly found the system to be unfair and damaging, particularly to those with limited resources to make bail.
  • Adopting the practice of presumptive pretrial release for all misdemeanor charges. The only exception being those deemed dangerous to the community during the pretrial release process.
  • Adding greater emphasis to the reentry process. More than 60 percent of the people who come into the criminal justice system return to the system within two years of release.

The majority of this post was written by SPA News. Learn more about the SPA Justice Programs Office and see a summary of SPA’s report. To sign up for SPA updates, please email


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