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April 12, 2018

Stoked for the OSU's Reckless-Dinitz Lecture featuring Professor John Pfaff

I have had the pleasure of spending a good part of today hanging out with Fordham Law Professor John Pfaff, who is on the Ohio State campus today to deliver the 29th Annual Walter C. Reckless - Simon Dinitz Memorial Lecture.  John's talk today is titled "Moving Past the Standard Story: Rethinking the Causes of Mass Incarceration," and here is the abstract for this lecture:

Reducing America's exceptional reliance on incarceration is one of the few issues of genuine bipartisan cooperation these days.  Yet despite years of work, change has been slow and halting.  One critical reason is that the story we tell about what has driven prison growth often emphasizes causes that matter less at the expense of those that matter more.
We talk about the impact of long sentences — which certainly matter — but end up overlooking the even more important role of prosecutorial charging behavior in the process.  We emphasize the need to stop sending people to prison for drugs, but as a result fail to talk about changing how we punish those convicted of violence — even though only 15% of the prison population is serving time for drugs, compared to over 50% for violence.  And reformers frequently direct their attention on private prisons, and thus don't focus on the fact that public institutions hold over 90% of all inmates, and that (public) correctional officer unions and legislators with public prisons in their districts play far bigger roles than the private prison firms in pushing back against reform efforts.  Even the modest reductions in prison populations since 2010 are something to celebrate, but more substantive cuts will require us to start asking tougher questions about the sorts of changes we need to demand.

April 12, 2018 at 02:58 PM | Permalink


Hard to imagine why anyone would care to hear Pfaff speak, especially since he is spectacularly wrong about a many great things (I'd encourage Pfaff to rethink his own weak sauce). According to Katherine Beckett, "Pfaff’s analysis is undermined by methodological flaws, logical errors, and conceptual limitations. These weaknesses significantly erode confidence in some of his other conclusions." You can see Beckett's devastating dismantling of Pfaff below. Intellectual morality demands that he be confronted with his absurd and empirically false claims, but something tells me he won't and he'll be free to continue to peddle his "phrenology". Because no one can describe the profession of "law professor" better than McNulty: "everybody stays friends and everybody has a fucking future."


Posted by: dino | Apr 12, 2018 3:27:02 PM


Thanks for that link. I expected a hack job but it was surprisingly informative. However, I'm sure that the author's conclusions re: Pfaff are worth fighting over...there shouldn't be a purity test in this area. There is a great deal of agreement that prosecutor discretion is a problem so let's focus on where reform is possible rather than arguing over sideshows.

Posted by: Daniel | Apr 12, 2018 4:30:34 PM

sigh..I am NOT sure...

Posted by: Daniel | Apr 12, 2018 4:30:55 PM

We have about 3000 complex adaptive criminal justice systems. How likely is it that one can make statements that are true for all of them? Furthermore the data about these system is incomplete and of very low quality.

Posted by: John Neff | Apr 12, 2018 6:22:44 PM

With Bill Otis on the USSSC, dont look for amendments to get passed that apprecisbly help drugs or any other inmate type.

Oh boy, wont be much for congress to ignore so it goes into law, going forward.

Posted by: MidWestGuy | Apr 12, 2018 9:43:30 PM

Off topic, talk of Libby -- who can vote & got his law license back -- being pardoning. The cheapening of the pardon power continues.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 12, 2018 11:43:03 PM

Joe, how about ex Fed Judge Jack Camp, he got his mess busted down to a misdemeaner at time if sentenceing, after he pleaded guilty to a felony. He got to keep his rights and Atty license and his F U L L federal pension and soc sec wasnt put on hold.

Posted by: MidWestGuy | Apr 13, 2018 7:38:38 AM

Wonder what other senior citizens in his position got.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 13, 2018 12:28:26 PM

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