The beautiful Donovan Pavilion was the setting for an important–and at times alarming–discussion of criminal justice reform in America.
Several of the most serious issues with the justice system resulted in a lively back and forth between our two speakers, legal scholar Clark Neily and prosecutor Ashley Morgan. The use, or misuse, of plea bargaining was a key point of contention; the often tragic unfairness of mandatory minimums was another.
However, both speakers acknowledged that the criminal justice system has become the de facto mental health system in our country. That so many Americans in need of help for addiction or mental illness are warehoused in jails and prisons and not receiving the treatment they need is a modern tragedy.
Is there a way forward? One suggestion by Morgan, that public defenders are paid salaries similar to prosecutors, was fair and surprising that it does not already happen. Neily’s suggestion that prosecutors who prosecute and convict people who are later exonerated, so that they have “skin in the game,” will likely be a much harder sell.
The Vail Symposium digs deep on another issue of public policy–tax cuts and deficits–on Thursday, March 5, 2020.