Growing up outside Newark, NJ, the daughter of a first-generation mom from the Dominican Republic and a dad who grew up going back and forth between Harlem and the Deep South, Judge Victoria Pratt (https://judgevictoriapratt.com/) found herself in the role of translator, advocate and champion at a very young age. That deep desire to serve at the sweet-spot between justice and humanity never left her.
Rising up through government and educational institutions, she eventually became a judge, but not your ordinary judge. For her, it was all about serving the broader humanity and needs of both those who appeared in her courtroom, as well as those who were affected in the community. Judge Pratt gained acclaim as a champion for criminal justice reform in her Newark courtroom, worked with jurisdictions across the US, and as far as Dubai, Ukraine, Mexico and England. Her TED Talk, How Judges Can Show Respect, went viral.
Now a leading voice in criminal justice reform through her consulting firm Pratt Lucien Consultants, Judge Pratt speaks to corporate and organizational leaders about restoring respect to their processes. At the heart of it all is a call-to-action to elevate the humanity and dignity of all people and focus more on restoration and rehabilitation than punishment.
In today's conversation, we explore Judge Pratt's early childhood, the experiences and moments that shaped her, as well as the powerful moments and exercises that transformed her courtroom into a place not only of justice but of reclamation and an awakening to potential and responsibility.
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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Growing up as new are new jersey, the daughter of a first generation man from the dominican republic in a data kind of group going back and forth between harlem and the deep south, mike
today judge the tory upright found herself came in the role of translator, advocate and champion at a very young age, and that deep desire to serve at the sweet spot between justice and humanity never really left her eventually rising up through the government and educational institutions. She became a judge, but not just your ordinary judge for her. It was all about serving the broader humanity and needs of both those who appeared in her courtroom, as well as those who were affected in the community and judge pratt, gained a claim as a champion for criminal justice reform in that newark courtroom worked with jurisdictions. Now across the? U S. As far as do by ukraine, mexico, england, she did a ted talk, can really deepening into her philosophy, called how judges can show respect that went viral and she's. Now a leading boys and criminal justice reform through her consulting firm cracked, lucian consultants. I
down with judge pride and we explored
at the moment in her early childhood, the experiences that really shaped her, as well as the powerful moments and exercises that she brought to her courtroom that
Profoundly transform the way that everybody experienced it. She turned it into a place, not just where violations of laws or prosecuted, but where human beings, who had so often been unseen, unrecognised unheard by almost everybody else. Were seen heard validated and not just punished, but going to space to be served to be restored to be read, ability it ends to create solutions at not just help them, but also help the society that they would eventually return to read.
A powerful moving conversation can away to share with you, I'm john,
fields- and this is good life project,
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you, my curiosity is when you grow up just as our new york city with parents who literally have to learn how to navigate different were also known as the southern part of the country and then new york city, profoundly different experience has almost become a multi literate in the different cultures.
And then you had a really young age start too,
observe all these different says injustice and in the way that people sort of live and see this need for change and decide that you want to play a role in that change. Is that a process that unfolds just kind of slowly over time for you or was there something more like a moment or something that happened that really awakened this new? I think it grew out of necessity. You know, being the first born,
child of an immigrant immigrant children have to be multilingual and also have to learn systems quickly and then also being the daughter of an african american male who grew and lived in
he had never felt like a force citizen and as you
asked discussion. I really can't of think about what was like that.
Home that I saw something happened that is it or not. This cannot be
and it was after my parents had purchased a home they purchased.
And they needed to
Do some repairs to the home
I don't even know how this contract regarding contact. It could have been. What typically happens people get these form causing. You know, they're kind of the predatory phone calls and the person showed up and
I learned about what happens when people dont have a language, don't have words to protect, express defend
or get clarity for themselves in
watching this unfold? For my parents and this
the white gentlemen had come to our house- and he was talking to my parents about we financing the mortgage and what my mother knew was that the mortgage was gonna, be incredibly high now, once they re finance and they get business windows or whatever it was, they were putting in the house, but that it was going to create a bigger hardship.
And my father, who had built with white man
Only is bosses bill collectors, people who had punished him in his life
sat through this meeting, and I remember sitting there and hearing him kind of yeah. They ended up signing this,
contract to refinance the house and happy people. Do this kind
action work, but the next
My mother, she didn't sleep and she said to me: we can't do we can't.
I need you to go. I need you to call
I'm a kid and I'm calling it a new jersey. You know three days to the end,
contract. You know to reject and say you know, I'm not gonna be a part of this contract anymore, and I call
I'm telling them and others it my father doing this anymore she's here she is. She could speak very good english, but here too
was explaining this him. We ve cancel this contract, somehow the corner, my father and
after this vocabulary and other kinds of this contract they ve cornered, my father and on the proceed
an I sit there and watch my parents struggle litter
for the rest of my childhood too
the mortgage to pay the bills see your dad was better like they can. A corner and appointed haven't said yesterday and stay in this, and they sat, and today
in other words like seven days a week,
seven days a week and
There was no rest. It was
keeping the house- and I understand it now as an adult anything
and it was one of these predatory mortgage lenders, you nice funny. I still don't forget the mortgage company, but as a kid I thought my
now. This is what happened because they didn't know how to exploit.
rest themselves and to prevent this thing from happened, so they were preyed upon, and I tell you,
was ten. Maybe I was eleven like. I was really, but I understood this thing
I understood that as a result of this thing, my parents, all the time,
and that my parents struggled my parents struggled with
taxes they struggled with mortgage.
It is always angry about you know it was that thing that really lit my fire. I think how are you
person, and so I think, as a spanish,
in child of an immigrant as well? I was always taught to help people who are struggling with translations, so going up, I was always budding into you know-
whose business I'd forgotten, struggling and they're, giving them instructions, and they couldn't understand, cited a hold on. Let me tell them and inject myself
into places where you know, maybe a kid wouldn't, because they playing
think it started from there and just like something
bless, you may teach your child that if an elderly person drop something that they should bend up and pick it up and give it
and handed to them. That is what I was
and always going somewhere with some wine and always trying to help them or explaining things too, that you know. I laugh because even after became a judge, there would be people at my house, like with just paperwork, just paperwork and has asked me to other
first generation immigrants as well. We laugh about how honour nope, someone so son is very smart. Have them fill these papers out for you and
having an obligation to do it and to do it well
and I learned about imports.
Education that education changes everything
education is no reason knows no color.
getting one with something that no one could take from you. They couldn't take it from you and they took it
engage and fight, you know and fight at a different level.
I guess that's why we challenges are presented to me, and this is just not enough from supposed to do rate, because this is it this moral obligation and the missed this profession
obligation. I feel as well yeah I mean so interesting as you find yourself, not only the trend,
for so many people. But the advocate
at a very young age which is from them
People at any age, not a comfortable place to be, but especially at a young age, especially
you know, you're doing it at an age where very often
you know, the rule is to show deference
Anyone who would be older than you, but you see
people are being taken advantage of our meeting, as you said that you had
and sometimes compounded like needing that skills in an office
So here you can have a disability to see what was really happening. You had
a deeper awareness of the dynamic that were really happening, but its increasing that talk about this deference to adults, because sometimes
as women? We are taught to be incredibly deferential. My mother came from a very she was latina answer. I was taught to be differential in certain instances and when I went to practice,
the most difficult things I had to do
as a young attorney, still kind of a young twenty something europe was how I dealt with older attorneys in practice, and I wanted to be a little later.
I remember, being a top first happen.
Why call miss peggy.
Am I something that was so simple, but just really transitioning into a space tat? I was really uncomfortable with because, like all round
I am now this person's advocate and dispersed,
age, and their experience doesn't mean anything in can't if I'm really going to help them
I kind of went back into that pocket way,
I thought about my life ass, a kid this
myself. You know in people's business as people would say, you know my cousins. What say you isn't the adults compress about interest. The negative reserve table another case of our real things on, but I mean also says that you were really strong sense of fairness in you
the sense of like really really strong sense of right and wrong and clarity around that was was also something that touched down fairly early. Yes, I think so. I think when you see people,
treated unfairly, simply because they look like you or because they live in a place if they dont have access to money or they dont have something
That's really that import.
Their human beings of we treat people fairly because of their humanity than they deserve that they deserve fairness. They deserve justice and not to be punished because they are poor right and
that's always been in the forefront of my mind like why does this thing happened to a person? Why is this are all wise?
the policy who does it benefit and does
and if it anyone at all- and is this just a pen- doesn't
policy that exists, because
somebody felt like it on that particular day, and they think the judge what I have that has really been able
help me said. I've worked for every branch of governor doesn't
he's me, so I
the governor, mcgreevy and govern recovery, and indeed for the exact
if branch in new jersey I've worked for
a person in the legislative branch. Looking at lawmaking and working for the law makers, and then I went to
for the judiciary and in them
that that I worked for the school district
community were working with the people who are supposed to be benefiting from what all these branches
of government or doing
really having a strong sense of being a servant right, because
that's what we are, no matter what you do
title is: if you work government, you are a public servant and getting
HU, it is you're supposed to be serving, and I think that that
why we have so much care ass because
understand who you're, sir and preserving public into certain interests were saving theirs
that and we're supposed
serving, our human capital were supposed be turning
pouring into them so that the next generation has, but so that we have a full society of people who can do things and so the sense of justice. I you know when listening to people, craft laws and legal case, but this hurts dispersed,
When you are drafting this, this peace hurt said he
this way on that, then it hurts them.
and so always being that voice and not being afraid to be it, because I think that when we show up, we show up with everything we have to make our contribution. So if I keep my woman this to myself when you're making decisions about things that
women. Then I haven't
then, what's the point of me being there, if I don't
show up as women of color than was the
me speaking. They are, if I don't show up as an imminent
if the child of an immigrant, then, what's the point of having me there- and you can't me
good decisions. I always set in place in
haven't organization and their no women at the top, so you're only serving less than fifty percent of your purpose. Because
We'Ll- have to hear these different point of view. We know that when you have
freeing and colliding points of view. We
These arrive at the best decision always, but he soon just sing re, because that is so often the opposite that that we end up seeking you like we seek harmony. We see
do like a rule, abide answer. We see we wanted to put together a team or a group or a company or set of rules that creep.
The leslie at the least amount of disruption or unease along the way and
and very often the way that you do that
been very monolithic and homogenous, and look for sir lake,
You know the the least representation. I guess she's to some. You know
come that you ve been designated to get too as quickly as possible with the least amount disrupt and you may have had to get their faster, but that doesn't mean that the outcome that you land, that is in any way the best one eight is it is not when you don't have all the voices there when you I couldn't
so we think for everybody, who's gonna be impacted by a particular law. My community will all
the same, we don't experience life the same, but on all do the same things.
when you exclude people, because that's what it is is excluding people from the process, yeah
is uncomfortable in his in that lack of
It is when you are in that hot seed is when you're in that space. That makes,
feel uneasy that everyone grows right
what we do is we just silence that that makes me
uncomfortable and not going to deal with it. Member. It's almost like when I am yell at leaders about leaving-
It is not about the nice warm fuzzy stuff, that's not what they hired you to lead this place. They hired you to do the stuff that makes you uncomfortable, because that's what
employees and the people to stop a battle. Everybody is relying on you to do something. You don't do it, then it doesn't
happen in this basis
grow and they're not a better place to work in the middle
provide, they don't contribute, but is in that space of being uncomfortable and even with,
your own self, so so much
my work on the bent sometimes is about. The uncomfortable stuff is about sitting across
The defendant, who is struggling, struggling drugs
if you feel better for a short period of time,
and then they screw up your life right. So it's.
happiness or numbness to this issue for a short period of time.
And then I'm back here and I'm gonna do
the consequences of this drug- and there are so many on points in time-
time on the bench when I saw that and that peace,
stories how they arrived there, how they got to
violation that bring some before me. Yes, is a violation that brings them before me, but I'm so interested in the stuff that happened before, because it
have an understanding of what happened before. I've got a better chance of keeping you out of here and ahead these people. They brought the prisoners out in
again, I was an admin judge- was a judge in a low level court municipal court, but this is a quarter for suppressant work. Most people will see is where most of the work happens, because, as the load, the drug possession is the process to share its the truancy etc. The data he asked the other day stuff is the low level drug dealing
swear that your mentally ill
heard it entails, like cattle, because we haven't realize
that is better to give them services than to create law
them in and send them to court and
just to do something about giving the judges any skills are needed
to do something, and there were these two people
if they brought men and they brought the women out at the same time, and I had to ask an older gentleman said: how long have you been at
it to drugs, and you know that
interested in talking to what it was like a mad thirty use. And how did you get it?
the second is to stop there and stop and stuff, so the men laughed and he left
and there was a woman- and I didn't ask the question to everyone, but just there was something about
particularly when the space and I had seen her she'd, been picked up on prostitution charges before she owed money- and I didn't
and get her into the programme and
as tourists had? How did you get it? How long have you been addicted to drugs? She shook her head and she said, judge
you saw the guy that you just ask the question about how long he was a bit said yeah. She said that was my step
it addicted, and it was as if all of the air in the room was sucked out. They hadn't come to court. They hadn't been together, they weren't together and got arrested. They just happened to be arrested on the same day, ended up in the same place
living in the same level of trauma and crisis, and I thought my goodness me what goes on in your mind. When are you just
exaggeration, that aspiration, because she got it
to drugs when she was fifteen because of her stepfather
and all of the horrible thing
and now she was in her maybe forties
was still trying to none the feeling of what was going on, but this that bother with
It was a kid like
We still really living that spain
and what we know is that people get stuck it where the trauma happens.
And but their love of mature, and I just thought my god and she's just been coming in and out of this in the spring.
and really what she's dealing with issues of
would abuse say of an here?
We were in, and what we do is just so we ve been doing is turning cases as opposed to provide
them with assistance,
so we were really fortunate in nor that we partnered with the centre for port innovation, scent of awkward innovation and
the measures he just sharing their work under then mayor
corey booker now senator worry, but for now we booker and just had enough. We have to do
Something better, nor was the most voluminous court
the state of new jersey. It's the list, but at that time, over five
thousand cases coming through the poor about twenty four.
police agencies writing some answers and complaints was a boy. I mean the burden on that system, the missouri russia pressure and how we any one picks up, initiate an initiative how it impacts
what's so. If you pick up this all we're gonna go after all
life cases. What, then,
does to this court, which is now processing people and paper red
I can't imagine that was received all that openly. Technically it is you want me to do. Why do you want what ran? Because we are separate forms of graphic?
is the executive branch with their police forces that decides what they're doing
For me, I you know the scent of great innovation and now I'm chair there, advisory board has just been
the gods have because there were a partner who understands and has been working for years. They worked. Actually the mattel me you where it was the first me a court in the country, but it worked a clean up. Forty seven
street, where the community in the business partners got together and of any.
each to know when someone said that Europe every day is your mother worked on forty second street, you had the fight that with an influx, and now someone says in your legs, you got a pretty good job and but that I
we're going down there as we were heading to fort towards a port authority, and my mother would be like look forward. A foreigner sites, don't talk to anyone,
that's how you experienced forty second street
and wanting to do that for nor can wanting to do that for people they called
our courthouse, the green monster and that's what the people
possibly receiving justice and equity, and
Duration from this place called the court has its,
thirty one green street, but to think that the place that is your hall of justice, your beacon of light- is a monster truly.
And so what do you do to turn around and to increase public trust and so
programme started in what they did and what the sent her does.
Is that they go into the communities and they have community here
about. What do you want justice to look like the people who you are, sir?
the two interesting re. So instead of saying this is what we think justice you look like.
at number one as they go, and they they ask a question rather than say, this is what I'm pronouncing, yes, which is again like so rare from the beginning. Usually it's like from up on high like this is what we deem is the best option now implemented. Rather than can we have a conversation and figure this out together and then you wonder why no one comply, then you wonder why there's no buy in and
you wonder why they think you don't respect them, you, don't you don't speak to the people who are going to be subject to this.
And I was at and we were shocked when people came back and said. Oh, we want those young
those who are self employed on a corner to get jobs,
more punishment get jobs. We want you to give them jobs that they can get off this.
We want the drug attic, whose mining out in front of my house every day and get some treatment right.
What that talks about is this whole idea, restorative justice that miss betty knows
a guy who's nodding out in front of her house, because he was a kid growing up on the block
and she saw what the aid
did to her community the influx of drugs that nobody in the community new over that works
can understand what is happening here and what people,
We're afraid in this war on drugs are supposed to cure the problem and they saw communities
become weapon eyes they didn't
You stand that
this war on drugs was just going to devour and destroy entire communities of people.
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this idea of community courts and community justice and engaging the community, so community courts do those things they provide. Alternative sentencing to jails
if judges tools, so they can tailor justice so that it makes sense
because this woman, let's talk about the woman again to the drug addict, a prostitute has on this line,
The law says because she owes this money and continues to prostate she's to get jail time. Every time I see her. That's not
tailoring justice for her is getting her into a program that gets her talking about the trauma that she experienced and asked
gets, her assistance whistling
can live somewhere and so that you can be in place so that she can get off of drugs. You know, and
that's tailoring justice in a way that sphere.
the judge feels like they ve done something that they ve touched the community and that the relevant in the community, because now there impacting crime
and their impacting lives and that many. But the person now feels like they're getting assistance as well and.
The community engagement speaking to the community, about what justice should look like. What part should they play in
Unfortunately, I must, or communities is an over use of the police become police.
No got, sat and talked about your present. Any of this move would, from here, moved from here, as opposed to call
the police, who now then have to process them, but then also seeing the police as a part of this community. Who can do
station house adjustment. What are those when yet
the young person you have an opportunity to either send them to do
or send them to a non profit in the community that can help them
and so seeing their role in law enforcement is also peacekeepers
these communities that they can show up and keep.
communities and holding legislators accountable as well in
The leaders in these communities and using the nonprofits that already exists that have already been doing this work and given them helping to build capacity as well, and so
able to do that. The court and
It was amazing. You know we created a community advisory board. So now we're going to have the community coming into the court talking about what's happening in the community and what's happening in the judiciary. Now the first meeting we had boy was it rough, because I can imagine me before that very first meeting like water, like that most of the question I always wanted to read and
the community's pissed,
because no one from the need to share his ever asked them or heard there come
Are you so much bottled up for so many new screaming? And you know there is a suggestion back that nobody cares about in this. Just a did this to me a licence gas suspended, and this then I didn't know how to and nobody else is the phone and you have
said there, take it and understand and give people information. Ok, here's the court when something like that happens, that's this!
When this happens, that's not ass. You have to go down to the indeed resolve this issue, but they don't tell you there and
you, begin to create this dialogue and create almost leaders who can now kind of go out and disseminate
this information. But it's always like you said that first
in the first second meeting, and you like
but come in and talk to us because we can improve or serve you better. That's you actually show up there so
we were able to do that, bringing in the chaplain from that of how this thing exist in here. So people
we'll get arrested and
I'd, see them and they'd be put into this programme immediately. To imagine a person just picked up there to compensate, having meant up issues that north
screaming and yelling. Well, that's being a disorderly person in this
and so they get arrested. They have written up and they had brought down to the courthouse.
or they don't get brought down to the court house when they really need to get sent to the hospital and they get a complaint with the court d there not coming to them. They get a bench warrant issued or
So then, if they get the bench, it's, u they initial beer eventually get arrested, and then they eventually come to the courthouse. Will they ve been dancer themselves block for at least a day or two
some gotten medication and they come before a judge and instead of being sent to jail, they get an opportunity to go to this,
this programme has social workers.
on staff clinical folks, we have injuries
we're passionate people who just really passion. These folks are awesome at this because they really want to work with this entire population of folks who just need some help and need some help. Getting
assistants who need help getting ideas, so they can get their assistance and then you're in the centre of three universities and what happened
with a college
to go away.
their parents for the first time and you
Sources at these schools. Well, you have marijuana joint, you get
down to the municipal courthouse.
of them run down there and they don't want their day
mom's to know that they got picked up or get into trouble, and I just want to plead guilty very quickly. Well, if you please-
You write in this moment
impacts, your federal financial aid, which means
it might be
with her an appeal
process and then get it,
standing all of the complexities that happens and also
The prosecutor needs to be looking at what the public defender in defence council need to be looking at when we are engaging people in this process,
it's it's not just I mean it's an entirely different environment I mean, and and especially when you think, about the role of prosecutor in that environment. You can kind of see okay, so you are you as the judge who has this big arts or social lens,
really doing, what's right for the human being and seeing the humanity and somebody, and then how do we actually solve the deeper problem and a long term? You know the defender whose representing this person in their like zealously, trying to do the best for them, but then traditionally you think about the prosecutor and their role and it
is to enforce the law, and if this person broke the law,
like this is the outcome that has to happen and then as we
no happens, unfortunately, in a lot of
real high volume, municipal bureaucratic organizations,
there are expectations.
Out. You know you ve got numbers that they may not be on paper somewhere, but you're being measured by the
countless set your creating and so there's a lot of unspoken assumption about. You know what your role is and what the elite that you ve got kind of the surface level job, but then you can be judged on
different metrics and
to exist within the context of europe.
what room with a very different mission, very
It's gotta take an unusual purse
to play the role of prosecuting attorney is well, yes, you know
we talk about my court, but I
so that we can do this across amerika, and we should be that this is the one thing we should definitely be agreeing on that are low level. Court should be thinking about,
justice differently in this way, and even our superior court should be thinking about justice differently, but what the press, how the process
has to change what their role is a swell and it takes
some framing for them as well, because, yes, I need a conviction, I need a conviction but
So I need to stop seeing this recent come through the courthouse. I also need to make an offer that the judge is going to accept.
Also need to understand that and this this purse at midnight
find me offering someone a fifty dollar fine with thirty three dollars court.
Sleeping in public. When I know the person is homeless is pointless, it's actually
less and no one shows up to work to do work better,
meaning for that that
half of all that doesn't make any sense like that at your core
No, that I didn't do anything. I'm unexhausted because I saw a hundred and fifty people today, but nothing that I did,
it's going, have any impact.
and so I was surprised,
that the prosecutors who wanted to work in this court were came on board and some of the harder prosecutors who also didn't want to reckon.
when they would be assigned. You know it was work for me, but for me,
but before you send up any off
Need to know these things that you know whether the person has, if a young person, if they have a high school diploma, whether they have a job. But these
the things that you need to be thinking about when you make your offer, because I need to hear about them and how that sort of help frame. Please.
for the prosecuting. Also what this expectation was- and I had one prosecutor who lived in the commission
He said these are my neighbors. If they let live better than my life is better and.
I remember, one sit an and I came in and has had so you of course days on here, see you jack
he was here to see the prosecutor, give him update about how good he was doing, and I thought that's what they should look like. They should look like court should be about correction,
right, because that's what we're correcting your behavior. I want you to stop coming here because
punishment we know doesn't correct. People seem to be
Oh, we punish you severely enough. Then we correctional we don't, because if we punish you greater than the actual offence we have now
created another victim, which is the person that the system
punch right, so you send somebody away for life,
citizens that should have received a couple years or
I say, give them
ten years as opposed to what really should,
in two years. For those
ten years. They sit in the jail thinking about it than victimize by the system they really do, and that is that is the best
I think that we need to be in in society that, yes, we want people we want. We want less victims
but people often say to your awful coast and the defendant. What about the victim? And if I do this work for the victim? This is exactly why I do this work and I do this work.
Victim one, because when this
I can get out once this person comes to court and has been severely punished by the court for what they do. They have to go back into the same community and live with the victim and
have we done and so
often are victims appear in court as defendants. Don't they
I made my first example. She was a victim of the sexual abuse of her
father that drove ready to drugs and now we're dealing with this
the issue is a heroin attic who now engages in prostitution to feed the heroin addiction
and so in talking about young women. You know we have the school prison pipeline, but we also have the sexual assault the prison pipeline for young women, so they're getting arrested and sent to these facilities for the crimes that are typically cause because of
Sexual sought so they're running away from home right a fighting in school. They don't work.
It's a thing fighting I work with the dc. Division of youth services is doing amazing work. There will they have just brought back all
their girls because they didn't house them. In DC c, a younger who had to go to a youth facility went outside of the state.
they ve been out of diesel there in arizona there were
utah, and they would
deemed violent if they fall.
So how are we re having this child if she can't or even because
to their family,
and once they come back into the community, they ve been
miles and miles and states away so high
the we correct that behind
How do we correct what we further
aggravated by sending this person so far away from their families wins and in reality we need to figure out what one what's goin on at home that might be causing some
behavior, how can we create a space for this?
to feel safe right, because we
knowledge obligation as adults.
Make children feel safe.
and their communities and be safe in their communities and not blame them when they respond to
Violence in the trauma that they are experiencing
I made a centrally took his so much of this? There is a fundamental societal judgment, which is you know
What is the ultimate goal of the criminal justice system? Is it punishment? Is it rehabilitation and restoration and
Pending on who you taught you and where we are in in the history of our country
a pendulum really tends to swing to one side or the other, and I feel it last year really two decades.
Really swung pretty violently out towards the punishments. Hide it and it's hard to argue. As you say, my you'll have people
and who are victims.
These crimes are actions committed by people who appear before you were coming to you, I say alike.
Where's my justice, if you're being so good to them, offering them social services offering all sorts of things that will help them get better
and become like and re enter society and be my next door neighbour, but where's my justice for the that's being done, and then the one
You got that you get that there's pay in their real harm, that's been done, and,
at the same time, you know the cycle never ends
the primary drive of the entire system is punishment and never restoration. Rehabilitation am screaming at last, be restoration and rehabilitation it has to be. There has to be
basically, fortunately for us, our centre helps victims as well come
come to hear more about that. So your community solutions, you don't even have to have a a violation. You'd have to be charged or arrested or complaint. You can just walk in off the street and get assistance from social workers will get you connected to services. I mean
want to eradicate the need for our justice system for less eradicate poverty level.
Adequate? The system dismantle the citizens, the racist systems that feeds the prison,
some of that feeds these
fair sentences and laws that we're deal
with let's do those things I mean. I just have this list of things that we can do and that's it
work on them. But if we look at this,
We keep throwing money at a system that is not working for
We keep throwing money, a punishment and is not helping.
We're throwing money and people are getting rich and that's another issue. That's another thing that we have to do. If we want to reform the criminal justice system, people have to stop making money.
If the backs of poor oppressed people,
you know it had. We have to ask what we have to get rid of the incentive of sending
people to jail. What's beans,
if well, I currently have been named by governor murphy to the woman's prison in new jersey, the aetna man,
section of the silly I'm so excited to be able to work with this group of women on this boy.
To really just do some work reforming.
The prison system-
for women in new jersey, and they been under
instigation for sexual assaults against women, and things like that, and so you look at this in your like. We take people into custody, we make them our responsibility when we take them into custody
and then we throw them into prison in this house figure it out. Well, I wouldn't,
here, if you didn't send me here
I have an obligation, you the state, to make sure that
and survive this process, and that since you ve
moved me from my family in the space that when I get out, I can go back and do,
something in this community become a part of my family again and raise up a good, strong family that doesn't perpetuate the same cycle here
and there are so many issues that women face in the prison system. If women who are not in the system, women
pay bales women.
a fine and cost to help their families and at moms s, wives, asked sisters. You know they drive
the jails and prisons to see family members. They pay them.
Charges on the commissaries I just saw they have this with machine that all get canals and emails forty cents a pop, unlike
Is free? What do you wonder? Why are we proud of this
so that the system is really what we ve just been doing these things and layering more bad policy on top more pad policy, and then these folks come out and I'm all
prize at these folks who come out of prisons and brilliant
there their education in the system and, unlike what we have gained,
by not having had this person incarcerated right because, yes, I get. People have violated the law,
I got that. I understand the law and I want it to be upheld. But what did we
by putting this person and for three to five on a truck possession charge for marijuana. But what did we get out of this place?
the leap sent them away for three to five years and then voted regaining by having a note
real consequences. So all the things they up now barred from doing, because of
so now we must get a job, but you can
did your bar precisely because you have a record and we don't licence people with a record to become,
But we need you to pay your jaw support because it was a growing. While you were in prison,
but I don't know if you're gonna be able to pay all the surcharges on your driver's licence that you got.
while you away after you got surcharges before you, ve had a driver's license,
we create is impossible systems that just aren't you
to go back to your onto almost anything, but it s the makes sense. In my experience with that,
the stuff we were being asked to do, just it makes sense. You made a point
earlier about these
spoken requirements for judges. You know on what makes it hard for a just to do the work that they want to. Do it
some of it, for me, is the distance and detachment that judges experience, that we want to protect judges from,
do influence from the other branches of government. You know we don't want legislators telling you how to rule. We don't want that. We don't want, and we don't want, that we want to protect the judiciary from it
so we preclude judges from speaking about what they do.
From attending events would preclude them from
being around the people that,
they serve and I dont think that it creates
A more neutral george? I should think it creates unless informed, judge right,
some form judge an example of this was I had a young at a man whose dignity heroin,
picking up these silly quality of life
cases- and you know, quality of life is throwing trash on the floor, smoking in public or we could be smoking or being home.
People have a lot of them, cause they're, sleeping in public drivers, doing or failing to obey,
officers command command to do what is always my question, but you because we want to do spitting in public as one and I had him in the past
and he was about to get kicked out of the programme. Now the programme is not just a, we feel nice and we, like you, it's you come to the judge and report to me every time,
at that time you
spend sentence hanging over your head and
If you dont do it you suppose you do, you will get your jail sentence, but we're working to get you to learn how to show up on time, and he wouldn't show
one time, Emily doesnt shop on time. He can't be seen.
I was like, oh my god, this is killing me because I know this guy is not trying to force me to send him to jail on this charge.
just won't do what I'd like shit.
up on time.
day, I was outside in the community at a foot truck rights of the judge is trying to eat outside. Imagine that can't you see the judge line had the boot truck but am outside
and I see him walking down the street. He stops at the light
golly, I say hey. I saw you, but I just watch him and
on the corner. There's the like is garbage can, and he goes halfway across the street turns around comes back, picks up a piece of paper and throws it.
The garbage thought that was a little interest in those it in the garbage goes back
crosses, goes off the crossword off the cyber into the middle street,
where is back around, comes back to the garbage and picks up another piece of white and those in the garbage
He does this for about six minutes. My keys
he has a city a every time he sees a garbage. He has to pick up
all the garbage that's around it now he's
very tall, long strong am he's walking as if you
got some place to go.
he is the middle of the street. He turned, and I sat, and I watched him- do this-
really for six minutes and I thought oh, my car
is where he can't get to court on time. There's a guy!
he's in front of the busy gardner cycle somewhere right there. Yes, and I was bad
send him to do so because I couldn't get
to do what I needed him to do
and I go in and, unlike my goodness.
Things are always bigger than we think.
bigger than we think he just. He
trying to get to the cortex one time he even probably leaves and our ahead of time, but he
it's and I've seen, and I got actually seen him do it in front of the courthouse, because we have a garbage k comes off the ramp
Can't get away until he gets what he
figures, I guess or till the mind look. This is enough off to the next spot,
I just thought it. I learned that, because I was outside in my community amongst the people,
Just seeing this thing with this person as though we were able to make make sure they're okay, so I'm like well now when he comes to court, I'm not going to be upset that he's not on time and he's, never that that late
it depends. I gotta go now. You are you. You have an awareness that it's not intentional.
If anything is the exact opposite, not disrespectful, its literally him battling his own mental
still coming. Despite the fact that
stripping him up sunlight, it's like for you as a joint is just a completely different frame, is a totally different frame, and now that I have tools which are social workers under my oh, my god, I guess what I saw so now. They can delve into this, because this doesn't reveal itself in the office there. When the sitting.
It doesnt reveal itself, and so now we can really get you help and we can now get you connected.
To services and away, but it help me make it made me now
punish him for his illness again and that's unfortunately, so much of what we do.
You know, I'm, I see young people
a dealer sometimes come to court and, unlike you know, sign your paper and I'm like. Oh my gosh. You can't sign because Kip
read or write, and so what we expect this person to do when they got out of high school like what do we expect?
what's going to happen? We knew that they were gonna becoming through the court system. If we don't, if you dont, teach them if they dont, learn basic skills.
they will live in our justice system,
what do we do with that?
Sometimes it's revealed when someone
an essay to write and they'll go out in the hallway. With the prosecutor tell the judge, I can't and that's good. You know what this is good, that they feel comfortable enough to tell the prosecutor. But that's why the prosecutor prosecuting the public defender have to be a part of this, and the police officers in court have to be a part of this process. I'll have officers judge. Can I approach
the young man put me aside, and this is why
Do this or this is happening at home and when the court becomes a place for you
or two for assistance at collaborative or such as pure adversarial, gas and people scream about this. What I had this atmosphere, my aunt already, we don't live in an adversarial. At least
system anymore, public defender
have to go hand in hand.
Beg the prosecutor to give their client good deals, but ever since
about its. This has changed so much.
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You brought up the idea of a says. Tell me more about escalating. This is fascinating, so I believe
all of the answers that people want to live
His I'd inside of them
side of you and
can. I ask: why can't you just get clean
the answer is here, I don't know no, you do know, because
That's the reason you got addicted. It's that space,
And so I started having people think about those things
and orders com.
it's for the law and also increases satisfaction with judge decision, but increases the public trust
it was a way to give people voice and to make them
So those deep questions that I'm asking from the benches- and why does the judge care? Because she cares and
started. Asking people to write these essays, and I thought read them.
you know you have to read this thing out loud you'll put more effort into them.
This literally becomes a requirement for somebody for somebody, rain court and what people poor
into those essays, worthless
believable. It was almost like having the first community meeting at the courthouse and people were screaming and yelling for help. I did ask praise cause. I have I mean so many people probably show up- and this is scary- the first time, maybe in years or decades, where somebody has actually said to them like I want to see helped me see you help
see you there and they would write
a night give them these articles new york times articles you know, and they read them in, unlike in the school said you couldn't learn. I bet what would drive me crazy. I'm dealing with kid to or
on people, people who just dropped out of high school and brilliant switches pour out of them and we'd sit there and the ants
and they would literally have the end
as they would right. They would come to it.
and the I don't know would turn into, but I notice now, while I just turned this
about myself, also
have an essay. I don't know why just press angry with me. I don't know why judge pratt asked me to write
stupid and by the end of it
oh, my god and so letter to my son. What happens
you have someone has been added,
the twenty years. Writing a letter to his son and his
my dear son, who sitting in Heaven you were taken away far too soon as sixteen years old,
and I haven't been able to get rights and-
sin, and the damage is kind of goes through the space and his team.
In about these things and what happened to them
and you sitting there well, yes,
more than a junkie looking at a father who met
threshold, because we all have them in a sometimes mentally ill. People would come to court and the people
people would giggle Monday. I said you know if you are able to laugh. You just haven't met your threshold and we'd, never know what it is for somebody for somebody. It might be the death of a child, the loss of a giant. We never know what it is, and now I'm in this space and you're, asking me to knock
with this criminal justice Approach- and that's not at all, what's going on here, and so these
says the essay of the lady who comes to court and says she stopped.
struggling with a fatal disease,
Twenty four years
and because of it I've grown addicted to drugs,
I just didn't I lost my will do lives, I started doing heroin and but
an astonishing said it. I made a note of it. I and when she got off
she finished her aside, we clapped- and it was this beautiful, she's bali
because she had just put she Hadn'T- heard what she wrote
because in death
the process you ve written. It is a party
hear yourself and the quorum is key
and people leaning in listening to
this experience, because so much of it is reflective what their lives- and I said
to you know. Do you know that you beat that disease twenty three years ago
You can't have a fatal disease for twenty four years,
I ve been telling yourself the right.
story. About who you are you ve been play
the victim in national budgets are actually the victor, like you, too,
disease? I wish you would come for me.
every year. That you're here is
that you fly like think about, that there be
who die from diseases? We are told that they,
And she was just living waiting for this thing to killer literally.
People live in that space.
They live in the space of I fail
failed and they just they sit there and they stay there and every terrible thing that comes their way they submit to it.
supposed to fighting for you know, and you look
people living in poverty and my goodness, how do you make it there's so much more fighting you
I wish you didn't have to fight as much. I wish that we could understand that we have it within our power
within this generation to eradicate poverty and to give
we'd, better living conditions, people who go to work
every day. I still can't afford three meals a day right and then we punish them for stealing foot when in fact,
should be making food available or.
improving living conditions of people, can eat or live or have a roof over their heads. They can't function
They don't function well, so so much of it is that
the essays. I have one young woman who
wrote in his say about chick. She was about ninety pans and she came the court as he was reading.
This has issued at charged initially with an awful possession.
Weapons- they sent this pure quoth. They couldn't make their case will be sent to down
wonder why they didn't have this app? We ended up sending her to youth court because she's, a high school student woman, jersey when you're eighteen and she
comes back to quitted. She reads the sesar charge, I'm so sorry I was carrying a knife was carrying like either a butterfly for like a stigma
I'm so sorry I was carrying this safe. I didn't intend to hurt anyone, but it's just
I'm scared scared. All the time
scared when I m
were heard. Him scared. When I walk to school, I'm scared one
come home after
school when a mocking I'm scared
I I sleep my knife under my pillow and a barricade myself in my room. We failed her
she's a child in a community whose afraid, all the time
And then we restaurants enter the superior court
when she carries a knife and these
a day when I went home that evening- and I just kept thinking about like my gosh, the worst, the best that was going to happen, someone was going to take this knife from this little child and use it against her, like she wasn't even going to be able to defend herself with it, and I thought
I can. She is why she buried
hitting herself in a room in a code
social worker. Like oh, my god, I missed it
you barricading herself in her room and I come to me
and doubt that her mothers boyfriend had been sexually molesting. Her at night now.
She goes into school with police officers esben
after she gets arrested. But she,
most tells right, because you didn't fully tell
proud, because she hasn't trust the traditional system right like similar cycle. She doesn't want to reveal that that deeper was. She drops it enough in an essay
one can pick it up here, right,
and so, if you're, paying attended his hands here and so so much,
to happen, and so yes, well, that's why? For me, the m s
is were wonderful because they would they would be the
they were just see themselves on Charles blue- brought him up at all
workmen disappearing from society, and I find that.
And these guys were coming. Oh my god he's talking about me and they analyze this
Their experience- and it was such a powerful exercise that had been screaming. I need these young men to be able to have a clue where they can speak because as a part of it
when you do individual counting session group council sessions, as well as community, give backwards community service, because
One thing you wanna see me hit. The roof is how I don't like doing community services, I'm workin for free your work and
would you of this community right
and somehow it spawned a group
the fire next time, so we have a professor physical from what are they
union because he comes to new york,
These young men sit and talk about
their experiences and therefrom.
sex, indifferent gangs and they just young men, and they talk about
how they see themselves and here's this.
young african, american, professor who's, taking time to come just be with them, and one of my favorite things is to the group
like an hour. Maybe fifteen minutes or so
they still sitting outside talking to each other. They get kicked out of the room because without a closed down the spaces and there's still time
king to each other about their experiences so
What now creates the space
for them to talk about things, ends up before the and helping them in the decision making process right, because that's what we want, we want you to call somebody before you do something that silly wants you to call somebody before you do
think out of desperation,
tat baby, I had a different group appears or people people turn to that will have a different reflection yang had different indifferent.
Do what you're saying they different now said words
parents pelican day, yes, so so I am.
I do the things that scare me all the time right now. Don't you
Y know why? Because I know I have a mission that I've been called to and that I can't
it accomplished. If I sit in my fear, like I have the fear
But if I sit in it, I can't get this thing done
It means someone doesn't get served and there might be something that I have to offer and they can't get it because I'm just the vessel to come, bring it to you and I had a friend who does she does an entrepreneur program and
meaning pelican bay, and this kind of treatment is like all content.
birthday in California, and a cool I'm up for good party,
just doesn't get invited to a lot of parties too. So I don't know why people to stop Emily
like you, is that pelican very nose. I hold up the job
it is not going to the prison because over
this system now
who does that and then you talked about peer group,
and how important that is an
husband, says to me
am I she's nuts. Not unless doing that he's like normal. You should go
hear yourself you're, sending your wife to maximum security prison
if that's what you're suggesting effect, no, you need to go because you really need to be able to speak first
all about reform and clearly you
have to have something to say when you go there, and so
I go there and I'm skip every day,
I'm scared, not scared that
No, it's scared that something is going to happen to me is probably one of the more say
places, you're going to be
that how I'm hell I'm going to be received, because I know how my peers have treated people.
before that, some of the last things you ve heard or some of the worst things that have just could say to you and
help. The entire system has treated people in literally shepherded them in
where they are now, and so
There is a story that I tell that I tell
two older man and
in new york.
and so I said I'm here, because I want to be able to talk to you
hear from you, because I've really, it was really also an information gathering pass passes from me
But I want to share this with you in
story about in africa with ease
these reservations. How there was this reservation that had a bullhorn elephants. We know that the boy were often is the strong male alpha. Male elephants are their huge. They tons and
No, the elephants are almost there. The kind of passive by nature re, because their vegetarians illegal attack to eat, and so
it's kind of how people who else in his and the other elephants are the only kind of gatt and provoke them to have them attack
so they had too many elephants on this reservation,
and they decided that they were going to create this contraption and airlift, the elephant from one place
reservation to the neck, so they started. An e airlifted
the elephants and then they airlifted, the female elephants, women
to the male ballpoint alfin. He could. It was too heavy,
so they decided, someone came up with this bright idea, will leave all the male elephants at
reservation and escape the kid
but their minds at the other s vision at the new reservation. They found that the wine
we're being killed.
And they couldn't understand how these voters were getting this done, and they were
even the most valuable part, which was their horns
decided to cameras in and watch what was happening
and what they saw was at the baby meal, elephants we're going out in packs at night and
unprovoked they were killing the rhinos the elephants. What
Actually, the baby mia elephants were actually acting against their nature, so
all the baby mia elephants and took them back to the born out
when they got with the ball horn elephant? Those elephants smack them around, showed them how to walk? How d, how to behave but the baby?
point. Elephants now had behaviour, they could model and so forth,
happening in our community. Is that all the bull warrant
elephants are now sitting imprison if
happens when you take the boy went elephants out of the community, the baby.
Elephants behave against
very nature because they
have any role models to correct them, to show them how to behave.
As all I told that story and what was so powerful about it,
And so I started yelling at me image, because this would just pray and em like you're in here feeling. Sorry for yourself- and you have so much work to be doing in your community from here
there are these young boys are lining up the coming here to get their wrapped up in, I'm not afraid to go to prison, and you need to be telling them how
horrible. It is to live like this and do not come in here and
You know I'm latin in my belgian. I guess that's what I came here to do with the yellow, but truly this war.
Not just my work. Is your work to appear in his suffering: stop
Your niece is your nephews get
Keep them from coming in here. So
day man come up to me and he showed me this ted talks like the elephant. What you spoke to really touched me
as the elephant is my spirit.
realized that I didn't have any walkman elephants because he felt
the men would go out and get educated had not return.
It's I just didn't realize I really didn't have any model any behaviour tomorrow, then I have
Am I going to the ship
and for those who are now position, the shoe, I'm sorry, is the solitary confinement, which is not often that I find it s at all. Then
an american guy standing there waiting to talk to me judge. I need to tell you also impact
What you that story told about the boatman elephant that I went out to the yard and I told levels and then I called home.
And I got really angry with some gas because they were talking about what they meet me to do and I'm out, and he must be pretty high ranking in general
potential gang because he was able to get.
The order of we need.
start being role models, and he said I told them the story it all, and that was it
we stand. He was second, I convince them. They now having a barbecue on saturday for the young kids and enable the term abandoned some equipment.
ask about so they contain shift work. They didn't domain, but
I thought about how powerful that was like a story, but why it is important for us to
what for what were caught to do because
Sometimes it's just that a story that you share that impact someone. That's really
we for them, and if you don't show up, they don't get it
So for me, it's been about that. Calling up the boy went elephants that you still have work to do, even if you you're going to recovery you're trying to get clean, you need to people and people
with you as you do, that you
to be doing
this. You need to be amiss, ok, to change your mind about how you used to, but
to really change people's lives and be afraid
Anyway and so
I've been doing that work. Now.
any place of people ask me to speak. If I really think I can. Potentially
something to add to the conversation about reform, but but
reform is criminal justice reform in jail, listen court, reticent, community, as well as others.
were excited to see all of these
This conversation is well yeah. It's interesting to see. He really just feels like it's the last few years. Yeah there there's is this shift. Somehow yeah I mean it. It's it's an interesting journey of you, looking sort of like the narrative arc of where you've been and where you're headed.
and this seed near
I have a job to play. You be being aware of that at the youngest age you know like at that age it was the translator, slash activists, larger voice of and how that has just continued to weave and build and grow and expand as you've moved through through your career. So if we started come full circle now, yeah
after the phrase to you to live a good life. What comes up well? I've been thinking about that and when I think
now what it means to live a life. I think it means, and especially for me, it's what you do
when the challenges appear any
when the challenges appear. Knowing that.
Who are stronger that you're, smarter than to have enough wisdom to get through this
in the way you always have been
It's in the tough times, assume hiccups that we forget
Hu, we are it's not for me
when everything is going well, we are always living a good life, but it's in there
Space and animals into envious of the people who are
experiencing that nirvana. You know, but that
during that time. During those challenges that you are capable of continuing to love
continuing to nurture continuing to serve continuing
doing those things during
and for me, that's living a good life
The challenge is come up, how you show up for yourself and that space. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
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Transcript generated on 2023-06-27.