The following excerpt of an interview with NYU School of Law Professor Rachel Barkow was created by NYU School of Law and the full interview is available on the NYU Law website.

In writing Prisoners of Politics: Breaking the Cycle of Mass Incarceration, Rachel Barkow, Segal Family Professor of Regulatory Law and Policy, says she hopes to inspire a model of criminal justice reform based on evidence and data, overseen by institutions structured to provide accountability. Her recommendations are informed by her experience serving on the US Sentencing Commission as well as her leadership of NYU Law’s Center on the Administration of Criminal Law.

How did the current landscape for criminal justice evolve?

There’s a saying in law school, bad facts make bad law. You see that a lot in criminal justice policy-making. Some case gets media attention, or a politician is focusing on it, and the public gets fearful, angry, and upset, and policy follows. It’s essentially policy-making by anecdote. Predictably, we get very bad policies as a result, and there’s really no accountability for whether or not they work to reduce crime. [Often] there’s a demand to do something very tough in response to [a case] without thinking about all the ripple effects of that decision or how a particular approach might, in the long run, make it harder for someone who has committed a crime to effectively reintegrate into society.

What is penal populism and how does it factor into US politics?


NYU School of Law


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