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2019 Symposium

“Mass Incarceration as a Chronic Condition: Diagnosis, Prognosis, and Treatment”

Monday, November 18, 2019

University of Minnesota Law School, Room 25

Registration is closed.
The waitlist is also closed.
If you are registered and unable to attend, please email to open a space.

The 2019 Symposium assembles scholars that will examine mass incarceration as described in Franklin Zimring’s forthcoming book, “The Insidious Momentum of Mass Incarceration.” Zimring, whose earlier work has created and defined the study of mass incarceration, argues, in his new book, that mass incarceration carries a great deal of built-in “momentum,” and will continue unless there are paradigm shifts in state and federal sentencing systems. It also demonstrates the significant impact that the new status quo of mass incarceration has had, and will continue to have, on society. Zimring offers recommendations on two levels: (1) What must be done if present American incarceration rates do not significantly drop in the coming years? (2) What are the most promising ways to break the persistence of mass incarceration, and implement a serious deincarceration agenda in America?

Registration for the Symposium is free and CLE credits are expected. In addition to the following speakers hosted by Minnesota Law Review, Law & Inequity: A Journal of Theory and Practice will present a lunch panel of speakers discussing the issues as applied to Minnesota. More information about the local issues lunch panel is below.

Speakers and topics:

Keynote speaker:
Rachel E. Barkow, Vice Dean and Segal Family Professor of Regulatory Law and Policy and Faculty Director for the Center on the Administration of Criminal Law at NYU School of Law
Prisoners of Politics: Breaking the Cycle of Mass Incarceration
This talk will highlight the political institutional dynamics that prompted and maintain mass incarceration. It will draw lessons from Barkow’s book, Prisoners of Politics: Breaking the Cycle of Mass Incarceration, and Frank Zimring’s powerhouse new book, The Insidious Momentum of Mass Incarceration. After highlighting the institutional forces that created the large sweep of criminalization, incarceration, and supervision that describes American penal policy today, this talk will explore the best path forward for reversing course, again drawing lessons from the two books.

Mark H. Bergstrom, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing
Super Sentencing Commission: The Hope and the Reality
During the past decade, the responsibilities of the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing have expanded beyond traditional sentencing guidelines to include risk assessments, re-sentencing guidelines, parole guidelines, and re-commitment ranges.  While these and other activities hold the promise of improved coordination across decision points and better “governance of imprisonment,” do not underestimate the effort required.

Alfred Blumstein, J. Eric Jonsson Professor of Urban Systems and Operations Research Emeritus, Former Dean (1985-1993) of the H. John Heinz III College of Information Systems and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University
How and to What Extent Can the US Reverse the Tremendous Growth in Its Incarceration Rate?
After a fifty-year period of striking stability in its incarceration rate at 110 per hundred thousand, the United States increased that rate by almost 500 percent and has since reduced it slowly by only about 10 percent since the peak in the last 10 – 20 years. What are some approaches to do better and how feasible will they be?

Jessica Eaglin, Associate Professor of Law, Indiana University Maurer School of Law
The Perils of Old and New: Technical Sentencing Reforms in Response to Mass Incarceration
This talk will examine the ongoing debates about actuarial risk assessment tools as sentencing reform in the context of larger efforts to address the pressures of mass incarceration in the United States. Eaglin will consider both the promise and peril of this reform in light of Franklin Zimring’s proposed recommendations for reform.

Richard S. Frase, Benjamin N. Berger Professor of Criminal Law, University of Minnesota Law School
Can Sentencing Guidelines Commissions Help States Substantially Reduce Mass Incarceration?Professor Zimring argues that sentencing guidelines commissions could, if given additional powers, help states substantially reduce their bloated prison populations. This paper examines the strengths and weaknesses of this proposal, while also highlighting the ways in which such commissions are already helping some states limit the use of imprisonment.

John Pfaff, Professor of Law, Fordham University, Visiting Professor, Columbia Law School
Administrative Failures and Moral Failures: Zimring on the Role of Prosecutors
Zimring rightly points out the need to fix some of the (shockingly) poor institutional design that plagues criminal justice. But in the process, he overstates the extent to which mass incarceration is a policy failure, and thus understates its more fundamental cultural and political roots–and thus how to best address these deeper issues.

Kevin Reitz, James Annenberg La Vea Professor of Law, University of Minnesota Law School
Risk Assessment and Decarceration
Risk assessment, done formally or informally, has been a cornerstone of American prison policy for roughly a century. This paper will examine the exploding use of actuarial risk-assessment instruments in criminal sentencing, the old and new controversies surrounding them, and the possibility that reformed approaches to risk-informed sentencing will be a necessary component of American decarceration policy in the coming decades.

Robert Weisberg, Edwin H. Huddleson, Jr. Professor of Law at Stanford, Co-Faculty Director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center
Zimring’s Blend of Tragic Skepticism and Reformist Optimism
Franklin Zimring is skeptical about fundamentally changing the hearts and minds of local prosecutors and judges yet very optimistic about the possibility of top-down state-level agencies to control the behavior of these actors. My comment will consider how fundamental attitudes about faith in empirical science, political design, and the adaptability of human behavior figure in our response to mass incarceration.

Franklin Zimring, William G. Simon Professor of Law, Boalt Hall School of Law at University of California, Berkeley
Frank Zimring Responds
Zimring’s remarks will reconsider any major elements in the book’s approach that Symposium authors call into question. I will then give my view of whether an din what respect these criticisms alter the policy conclusions of the volume.

More about our keynote speaker, Rachel E. Barkow: Rachel E. Barkow’s scholarship and practice has thrived at the intersection of administrative law, constitutional law, and criminal justice. She has authored more than 20 articles, co-authored a prominent criminal law casebook, and released a book this spring, Prisoners of Politics, about breaking the cycle of mass incarceration through the application of administrative law concepts. She received the Distinguished Teaching Award and the Podell Distinguished Teaching Award at NYU School of Law in 2013 and 2007, respectively, serves on the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office Conviction Integrity Policy Advisory Panel and the United States Sentencing Commission, and co-founded a clemency resource center that obtained 96 sentence commutations pursuant to President Obama’s clemency initiative. She attended Harvard Law School, where she received the Sears Prize, and clerked for Judge Laurence H. Silberman of the D.C. Circuit and Justice Antonin Scalia of the US Supreme Court. To see her full biography and links to her publications, please visit her faculty page at NYU School of Law.

Mass Incarceration: A Minnesotan Perspective
Presented by the Journal of Law & Inequality

Local speakers will go through their various experiences with the criminal justice system and address the issue of mass incarceration on a local level. Panelists will speak to the causes of mass incarceration and the various initiatives aimed at addressing the problem in Minnesota.

Benjamin Feist is the Chief Programs Officer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota (ACLU-MN). In this role, he directs and manages the overall strategy for the ACLU-MN’s legal, legislative, and community outreach programs. He previously served as the ACLU-MN’s Legislative Director.

JaneAnne Murray is a professor of practice at the University of Minnesota Law School who specializes in criminal law and government investigations and teaches criminal procedure and sentencing advocacy, and whose research interests include plea bargaining, prosecutorial discretion, and sentencing. Ms. Murray serves on several boards and committees, including as co-chair of the sentencing committee of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, a member of the ABA taskforce to reform the federal economic fraud sentencing guideline, and a member of the advisory board to the Irish American Bar Association of New York (IABANY).

Judge Brandt is a Fourth Judicial District judge in Hennepin County. Judge Brandt was previously assigned to the Juvenile and Criminal Courts and currently presides over Treatment Courts. Before her appointment, Judge Brandt practiced in criminal prosecution in Minnesota.

Symposium scholarship in vol. 104, issue 6:

Speakers have the opportunity to publish an article related to their remarks in Minnesota Law Review’s sixth issue in volume 104. The issue will be accessible online from the Minnesota Law Review homepage by June, 2020. If you are unable to attend the Symposium, please enjoy this digital access to its ideas and conversations.

Videorecordings of the sessions will be made available online shortly after the Symposium.

You can also listen to an issue of our podcast featuring Symposium speakers. Check our podcast page for updates.


Law & Inequality: A Journal of Theory and Practice will host a panel over the lunch hour applying the ideas discussed throughout the day to the Minnesota criminal justice system. Please check back for more updates on local speakers.

Registration is closed.
The waitlist is also closed.

CLE credits expected. Lunch will be provided to all attendees.

Questions? Email