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August 24, 2017

"Criminal Injustice: Alec Karakatsanis puts 'human caging' and 'wealth-based detention' in America on trial"

The title of this post is the headline of this extended profile in the latest issue of Harvard Magazine. Here is an excerpt:

Alex Karakatsanis [has been] honored for his work at both Civil Rights Corps (CRC), a legal nonprofit that he founded in 2016, and Equal Justice Under Law (EJUL), a legal nonprofit that he co-founded with law-school friend Phil Telfeyan J.D. ’08 in early 2014. (He had left EJUL the month before to found CRC; Telfeyan still runs EJUL.) With his small band of colleagues — CRC just hired its tenth staff member — Karakatsanis, now 33, has swashbuckled around the country, partnering with local legal nonprofits and community groups to file lawsuits challenging egregious forms of such “human caging” across the balkanized constellation of local authorities in which the vast majority of American criminal procedure plays out each day.

Though he had clerked in Alabama, served as a federal public defender there, and practiced as a lawyer with the District of Columbia’s storied Public Defender Service (PDS), co-founding EJUL was Karakatsanis’s first foray into tackling what he calls “the American criminal system” more broadly.  (He’s observed that “if you say things like ‘the criminal justice system,’ people might get the sense that you’re talking about a system that does justice.”)

For a year and a half after he and Telfeyan founded EJUL in early 2014 with their seed grant, the two of them worked out of their Washington, D.C., apartments. Karakatsanis often used his bed and a small standing desk next to it as his workspace. Juliana Ratner, J.D. ’17, who first met Karakatsanis when they worked together at PDS, recalls that she “used to joke to him: ‘Do these cities that you’re suing know that it’s one man in a bed?’ ”

Their challenges to date have focused on the jailing of poor people for failing to pay municipal fines and fees, and the jailing of poor criminal defendants who cannot afford to pay the bail amounts that would allow them to be released from jail before trial. In challenging these two forms of what CRC and other groups have termed “wealth-based detention,” Karakatsanis and his colleagues have launched two frontal assaults at a broader system of criminal punishment that keeps 2.3 million people locked away from the rest of society.  It may sound amazing to attack something so Goliath-like with the organizational equivalent of sticks and stones. But so far, at least, they are winning.

August 24, 2017 at 08:44 AM | Permalink

Comments

Ruling in CA Death Penalty case:

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-death-penalty-decision-prop-66-20170824-story.html

Posted by: Joe | Aug 24, 2017 1:37:52 PM

"But so far, at least, they are winning."

Can someone show what decision they have won?

Posted by: David Behar | Aug 24, 2017 9:50:27 PM

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