Professor Joseph Margulies gives a lecture on incarceration on September 26, 2019.

‘Rethinking Violence’ Lecture Urges Students to Question Approach to Violent Crime

“The essence of the criminal justice reform model in the popular press has focused on the lowest of the low hanging fruit — the nonviolent drug offender in prison for possession of controlled substances,” Prof. Joseph Margulies, government, law, said in a lecture Thursday afternoon. But, according to Margulies, this narrative often embraced by the media is wrong. Margulies is a self-described “student of the American criminal justice system,” according to his bio on the Cornell Law School website. He has defended numerous people “caught up in the excesses of the so-called war on terror,” such as Abu Zubaydah — a Saudian Arabian national held at CIA black sites and interrogated in 2002 and 2003, the public discovery of which led to the infamous Bush Administration “torture memos.”

He disputed the popularly-held notion that the United States incarcerates large numbers of low-level non-violent offenders for minor possession charges and sentences them to disproportionate sentences — calling that perception the “holy grail” of incarceration. “We don’t send those people to prison … the search for the low-level non-violent drug offender is like the hunt for a snark …They may exist but they are vanishingly rare,” he said.

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VALDETARO | For the Criminal Justice System, Just Another Dirty Band-Aid

On Friday, September 13, actress Felicity Huffman was sentenced to 14 days in prison for paying $15,000 to have her daughter’s SAT altered as part of a wide-ranging college admissions scandal. Across Twitter and on shows such as The View, many reacted with indignation at a sentence they viewed to be too lenient, especially when contrasted to two black women — Kelley Williams-Bolar and Tonya McDowell — who also gamed the education system, but were sentenced to 10 days and five years in jail, respectively, for sending their children to school districts they didn’t reside in. In fact, both the prosecutor and judge in Felicity Huffman’s case argued that not sentencing Huffman to any jail time would be an injustice to Williams-Bolar. Although the prosecutor’s and judge’s diagnosis of potential injustice is correct, their assessment of the cause and the solution is not. Huffman walking free wouldn’t have been an injustice to Williams-Bolar and McDowell, nor is the injustice done to the two women corrected by sentencing Huffman to a two-week stint.