‘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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