We have all heard the dismal statistics when it comes to the United States’ criminal legal system, particularly incarceration. According to a report by the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative, the United States imprisons 2.3 million people, more people per capita than any other country in the world. In total, almost 7 million Americans are under some sort of criminal supervision. These numbers become even more astounding when they’re brought home: today, more than half of all Americans have an immediate family member who has been incarcerated at some time. If you are wondering why we are devoting an issue of Dispute Resolution Magazine to this topic, these numbers are a big part of the answer.
As you will learn from this magazine, dispute resolution professionals are already playing important roles in helping change how criminal cases are handled in America, although much more work is needed. In the first article, legal educators Andrea Kupfer Schneider of Marquette University Law School and Cynthia J. Alkon of Texas A&M School of Law provide a broad-brush look at the urgent need for reform of the criminal justice system, highlighting the importance of transparency and the lack of negotiation training for those involved in plea bargain discussions, the shortcomings of problem-solving courts, and why restorative justice programs deserve our support.
Three other articles show different initiatives on the ground led by lawyers interested in reform.
Plea bargaining is a crucial part of the criminal legal system, yet most legal professionals who are regularly negotiating case outcomes have had little or no training in how to negotiate. Jennifer Reynolds, who teaches law and directs the ADR Center at the University of Oregon School of Law, looks at how such training could be organized through a conversation with Heather Kulp, who has introduced plea negotiation training to attorneys, public defenders, private defenders, and others in New Hampshire, where Kulp serves as ADR Coordinator for the judicial branch.
In New York state, concerned about the many innocent defendants who were pleading guilty, a lawyers’ group recently established a task force to study how the justice system itself is encouraging such pleas and recommend reforms. Elayne E. Greenberg, who leads the Hugh L. Carey Center for Dispute Resolution at St. John’s University School of Law and helped task force members discuss one of the many options they were considering, reports on this unusual group’s contribution to criminal justice reform.
Finally, Kristen M. Blankley, a Professor at the University of Nebraska College of Law, gives us a creative example of how restorative justice can be used in the school system when one of the parties in a case refuses to participate – a factor that once might have meant that the case could not proceed.
We hope that this issue of Dispute Resolution Magazine will get you interested in this topic, get you thinking about what you might do in your own community, and get you involved in helping change a part of our society that urgently needs serious and far-reaching reforms. Your expertise, your passion, and your voice are all needed.
-- The Dispute Resolution Magazine Editorial Board