Nazgol Ghandnoosh’s recent publications include:
“One in Five: Ending Racial Inequity in Incarceration.” Washington, DC: The Sentencing Project. October 2023. [link to report]
This is the first installment of a four-part series of reports examining the progress made in the 21st century in reducing the U.S. prison population and its racial and ethnic disparities. The lifetime likelihood of imprisonment for young black men has fallen from a staggering one in three for those born in 1981 to a still troubling one in five for Black men bornin 2001. But rather than accelerate the pace of reforms, pushback from policymakers threatens further advancement. This report series updates the “Black Lives Matter: Eliminating Racial Inequity in the Criminal Justice System” report, which was released in 2015.
“Ron DeSantis Is Flat-out Wrong About the First Step Act” (with Liz Komar). The Daily Beast. June 2, 2023. [link to Op-Ed]
Fifty years after the beginning of mass incarceration, presidential candidates should be making the case for how they will do their part to end it. Congress should pass the First Step Implementation Act and Safer Detention Act and the current and future administrations must do their part to support these and other critical reforms and ensure their successful implementation.
“Media Guide: 10 Crime Coverage Dos and Don’ts.” Washington, DC: The Sentencing Project. June 2023. [link to guide]
News coverage of crime and criminal justice policies has played an integral role in the buildup of mass incarceration and its racial disparities. Many newsrooms are now striving to more accurately and critically cover these issues. This brief guide outlines how newsrooms and journalists can cover crime and criminal justice in ways that would better inform the public and policymakers on how to pursue the most effective and humane public safety policies. Recommendations include: conduct a racial equity audit on the quantity and quality of crime coverage, accurately present crime survivors as having a complexity of views, avoid creating backlash bait with partial coverage of recidivism, and use non-stigmatizing, person-first language.
“Ending 50 Years of Mass Incarceration: Urgent Reform Needed to Protect Future Generations.” Washington, DC: The Sentencing Project. February 2023. [link to brief]
This analysis reveals that after 50 years since the onset of mass incarceration, and despite recent downsizing of most state prison populations, the pace of decarceration is insufficient to undo the decades of unrelenting growth. At the current pace of decarceration, averaging 2.3% annually since 2009, it would take 75 years—until 2098—to return to 1972’s pre-mass incarceration prison population.
“Joe Biden Hasn’t Kept His Promise to Reduce the Prison Population” (with William Underwood). The Daily Beast. January 31, 2023. [link to Op-Ed]
The federal prison population has grown in the first two years years of Biden's presidency after nearly a decade in decline and despite the president’s promise to cut it by half.
“How Many People Are Spending Over a Decade in Prison?” (with Ashley Nellis). Washington, DC: The Sentencing Project. September 2022. [link to report]
This report finds that in 2019, over half of the people in U.S. prisons – amounting to more than 770,000 people – were serving sentences of 10 years or longer. That’s a huge jump from 2000, when 587,000 people were serving such sentences. In addition, over 260,000 people had already been incarcerated for at least 10 years in 2019, comprising 19% of the prison population. This is an increase from 133,000 people in 2000—which represented 10% of the prison population in that year. Based on criminological evidence that criminal careers typically end within approximately 10 years and recidivism rates fall measurably after about a decade of imprisonment, The Sentencing Project recommends taking a second look at sentences within 10 years of imprisonment. This report presents state-level analysis revealing a common growing trend of lengthy sentences, as well as significant geographic variation. The analysis also addresses racial disparities in long sentences. Because racial disparities are even starker here than among those serving shorter prison terms, focusing reform efforts on sentences of 10 years or more can accelerate racial justice. Related: Op-Ed in The Washington Post.
“Felony Murder: An On-Ramp for Extreme Sentencing” (with Emma Stammen and Connie Budaci). The Sentencing Project and Fair and Just Prosecution. March 2022. [link to report]
"Felony murder" occurs when a person participates in a felony, such as a robbery, that results in someone’s death. This extensive analysis of the United States’ fundamentally flawed felony murder laws reveals how frequently these convictions result in life-without-parole sentences, even when the individual charged did not directly cause or intend the loss of life. These laws are counterproductive to public safety and have particularly adverse impacts on people of color, young people, and women. The Sentencing Project and Fair and Just Prosecution recommend that all U.S. jurisdictions repeal felony murder statutes. The model policy memo included in the report sets forth recommended changes prosecutors can put in place to lead reform efforts. Related: Webinar by The Sentencing Project, Op-Ed (with Miriam A. Krinsky) in Market Watch, and Pennsylvania amicus brief.
“A Second Look at Injustice.” Washington, DC: The Sentencing Project. May 2021. [link to report]
Ending mass incarceration and tackling its racial disparities require taking a second look at long sentences. Legislators in 25 states, including Minnesota, Vermont, West Virginia, and Florida, have recently introduced second look bills. A federal bill allowing resentencing for youth crimes has bipartisan support. And, over 60 elected prosecutors and law enforcement leaders have called for second look legislation, with several prosecutors’ offices having launched sentence review units. This report examines the evidence supporting these reforms and presents in-depth accounts of three reform efforts that can be models for the nation: California's Assembly Bill 2942 (2018), allowing district attorneys to initiate resentencings, DC’s Second Look Amendment Act (2020), allowing those who committed crimes as emerging adults to petition for resentencing after 15 years of imprisonment, and New York State’s Elder Parole bill, which would allow people aged 55 and older who have served over 15 years in prison to receive a parole hearing. Related: Webinar by The Sentencing Project and Op-Ed in Los Angeles Daily News.
“Decarceration and Community Re-Entry in the COVID-19 Era” (with Carlos Franco-Paredes et al.). Lancet Infectious Diseases. September 2020. [link to essay]
This Personal View argues that since U.S. jails, prisons, and immigration detention centers are exceptionally susceptible to viral outbreaks such as SARS-CoV-2, substantial decarceration should be initiated. Community re-entry efforts have shown that releasing people from correctional facilities as a pandemic-era public health intervention is safe and can support both public safety and community rebuilding. We estimate that the country has achieved only an 11% reduction in incarceration levels during the pandemic. Given the extremely high levels of incarceration in the United States, this reduction is not adequate to the urgency of the COVID¬19 public health crisis. A point of focus for future decarceration efforts is incarcerated people older than 55 years who are especially at risk of severe COVID-19 and often pose little public safety risk. Related: Webinar by The Sentencing Project and Op-Eds in InsideSources and The Daily Journal.
“Cell Phones and 'Excessive Contact': The Contradictory Imperatives Facing California’s Parole-Eligible Lifers.” Criminal Justice Policy Review. February 2020. [link to journal article]
This article explores whether and how parole boards encourage people serving parole-eligible life sentences (“lifers”) to maintain ties to friends and family outside of prison, and the results of such encouragement. Interviews, ethnographic fieldwork, and parole-hearing transcripts reveal that California’s parole board encourages such rehabilitative ties through comments at parole hearings and through its parole-eligibility criteria. But to sustain these relationships, some lifers engage in misconduct to bypass restrictive prison policies by using contraband cell phones or engaging in physical contact with visitors that is deemed “excessive.” When detected, these disciplinary infractions become a stated cause of parole denials.
“Comments to the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice on Asylum Eligibility.” January 2020. [link to comments]
In December 2019, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice issued a joint set of Proposed Rules that would add seven categorical bars to asylum eligibility related to criminal history. These comments argue that this proposal runs counter to the growing understanding in domestic policy of the evidence and research on criminal histories, namely that they: can accompany innocence, are disproportionately imposed on the poor and people of color, need not reflect an elevated public safety risk, and highlight the need for investments in prevention, drug treatment, and restorative justice.
“The Next Step: Ending Excessive Punishment for Violent Crimes.” Washington, DC: The Sentencing Project. April 2019. [link to report]
Although the violent crime rate has plummeted to half of its early-1990s level, the number of people imprisoned for a violent offense grew until 2009, and has since declined by just 3%. This report profiles 15 reforms in over 19 states pursuing more effective and humane policies for violent crimes. Given that half of the U.S. prison population is imprisoned for a violent conviction, scaling back penalties for these crimes is key to ending mass incarceration. Related: Webinars by The Sentencing Project and by The Justice Collaborative.
“Opioids: Treating an Illness, Ending a War” (with Casey Anderson). Washington, DC: The Sentencing Project. December 2017. [link to report]
More people died from opioid-related deaths in 2015 than in any previous year. This record number quadrupled the level of such deaths in 1999. Drawing on lessons from past drug crises and the evidence supporting a public health approach, this report guides policymakers as they seek an end to the current opioid crisis—without revamping the failed and costly War on Drugs. The four major recommendations include: 1) End Overprescribing of Opioids; 2) Expand Access to Treatment for Drug Use Disorders; 3) Reduce Overdose Deaths through Harm-Reduction Measures, and; 4) End the Drug War. Related: Op-Ed in Newsweek.
“Minimizing the Maximum: The Case for Shortening All Prison Sentences.” In Smart Decarceration: Achieving Criminal Justice Transformation in the 21st Century (Edited by C. Pettus-Davis & M. Epperson). New York: Oxford University Press. 2017. [link to chapter]
This chapter demonstrates the impossibility of achieving meaningful decarceration, such as halving the current prison population, without reducing penalties for serious and violent crimes. Drawing on past research, it shows how prolonged sentences produce diminishing returns for public safety while tying up resources that could be used for crime prevention, drug treatment, and reentry programs. It concludes with three policy recommendations: establish a 20-year upper limit on prison sentences, depoliticize and professionalize the parole process for life sentences, and develop a meaningful geriatric release policy.
“Federal Prisons at a Crossroads.” Washington, DC: The Sentencing Project. June 2017. [link to briefing paper]
Since reaching a peak in 2013, the federal prison population declined 13% by the close of 2016—twice the national rate of decarceration. This brief argues that recent policy changes by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and certain Congressional proposals are poised to reverse this progress.
“Immigration and Public Safety” (with Josh Rovner). Washington, DC: The Sentencing Project. March 2017. [link to report]
Based on a survey of key research, this report argues that policies further restricting immigration are ineffective crime-control strategies because foreign-born residents of the United States commit crime less often than native-born citizens. The report highlights four key findings about the recent impact of immigrants in the United States: 1) Immigrants—regardless of legal status—commit crimes at lower rates than native-born citizens; 2) Higher levels of immigration in recent decades may have contributed to the historic drop in crime rates; 3) Police chiefs believe that intensifying immigration enforcement undermines public safety; and 4) Immigrants are under-represented in U.S. prisons. Related: Op-Ed in The Hill. Media coverage: The Hill and The Washington Post.
Over the past three decades many legislatures, governors, and parole boards have toughened “lifer” parole policies and practices—effectively increasing prison terms for the more than 110,000 individuals serving parole-eligible life sentences. In eight jurisdictions for which data are available since the 1980s, average time served by paroled lifers with murder convictions doubled from 11.6 years for those paroled in the 1980s to 23.2 years for those paroled between 2000 and 2013. Drawing on a national survey in which 31 states and the federal government provided data for available years since 1980, the report identifies four factors driving this growth in prison terms and concludes by recommending reforms to depoliticize the parole process and reverse the excessive growth in prison sentences. This is a critical goal because ”curbing excessive imprisonment for parole-eligible lifers is a crucial step toward ending mass incarceration.” Related: Op-Ed in The Washington Post and webinar by The Sentencing Project. Media coverage: Truthout and The Baltimore Sun.
“Support Grows to End Excessive Punishment.” The Daily Journal. November 14, 2014. [link to column]
The success of California’s Proposition 47 — the ballot initiative that reduces penalties for drug possession and certain property crimes — may mark a new day for criminal justice reform. But as encouraging as this reform is, California must take even bolder steps to tackle its high rate of incarceration.
“Life, with a Possibility of Blocked Parole.” The Daily Journal. September 25, 2014. [link to column]
California is among a handful of states that allow the governor to reverse the decisions of a governor-appointed parole board. This column explains why California should end gubernatorial parole review.
“Race and Punishment: Racial Perceptions of Crime and Support for Punitive Policies.” Washington, DC: The Sentencing Project. September 2014. [link to report]
This report synthesizes two decades of research revealing that white Americans’ strong association of crime with African Americans and Latinos is related to their support for punitive policies that disproportionately impact people of color. The prevalence of racial associations of crime, even among whites who explicitly endorse racial equality, helps to explain why whites are more punitive than African Americans and Latinos while being far less likely to be victims of crime. Crime rates, media representation, and the work of policymakers and criminal justice practitioners contribute to the exaggerated association of crime with people of color. The report recommends proven interventions for the media, policymakers, and criminal justice professionals to reduce racial perceptions of crime and mitigate their effects on the justice system. These include addressing disparities in crime reporting, reducing the severity and disparate impact of criminal sentencing, and tackling racial bias in the formal policies and discretionary decisions of criminal justice practitioners. Related: Post on the American Psychological Association blog, webinar by The Sentencing Project, and talk at the American Bar Association. Media coverage: The New York Times and WNYC’s On the Media.
“Fewer Prisoners, Less Crime: A Tale of Three States” (with Marc Mauer). Washington, DC: The Sentencing Project. July 2014. [link to briefing paper]
This briefing paper profiles the experiences of three states – New York, New Jersey, and California – that have reduced their prison populations by about 25% in the past decade while seeing their crime rates generally decline at a faster pace than the national average. Related: Op-Ed in The Crime Report .
“Can We Wait 88 Years to End Mass Incarceration?” (with Marc Mauer). The Huffington Post. December 20, 2013. [link to post]
The size of the US prison population has been declining every year since 2010, after 37 years of consecutive growth. This post argues that: “The break in the prison population's unremitting growth offers an overdue reprieve and a cause for hope for sustained reversal of the nearly four-decade growth pattern. But any optimism needs to be tempered by the very modest rate of decline, 1.8 percent in the past year. At this rate, it will take until 2101 -- 88 years -- for the prison population to return to its 1980 level.”
Nazgol Ghandnoosh’s past research focused on race and ethnicity in the United States. She wrote about the relationship between race and culture, the role of ethnicity in labor organizing, and ethnic exclusion in immigration law.
“‘Cross-Cultural’ Practices: Interpreting Non-African-American Participation in Hip-Hop Dance.” Ethnic and Racial Studies (2010) 33(9): 1580 - 1599. [link to article]
Abstract: This article examines how participants interpret a cultural practice commonly associated with a race other than their own. Determining if, how and why participants experience such ‘cross-cultural’ forms in racialized terms can clarify whether these practices promote tolerance or essentialism in everyday life, and whether they enable appropriation in the field of cultural production. Through interviews and participant observation with non-African-American women learning and teaching hip-hop dance, I capture a spectrum of participant views. Most dancers see hip-hop as African American in its origins. But while novices often speak of an inherent or learned authenticity among blacks, experts rarely express racialized views of the dance’s contemporary practice. Experts’ views are shaped by personal ability, exposure to dancers whose ability is not racially patterned, and exposure to others who accept their skill. How dancers act on these interpretations challenges common associations of racialized views with tolerance, and non-racialized views with appropriation.
“Organizing Workers Along Ethnic Lines: The Pilipino Workers’ Center.” Pp. 49-70 in R. Milkman, J. Bloom, and V. Narro (eds.) Working for Justice: The L.A. Model of Organizing and Advocacy. (2010) Cornell University Press. [link to book chapter]
Introduction: Worker centers often attract members who share a geographic area or ethnic background—rather than an occupation or industry––and help them claim and expand their rights. Working predominantly with immigrants who crosscut industries, these centers are attuned to members’ problems not only at work but also in other domains such as immigration and housing (Fine 2006, 13, 20-22). This chapter examines how building a membership along ethnic lines impacts a worker center’s campaigns. Previous scholars have shown that geographic or ethnic-based worker centers have been effective in directing work-related legislative campaigns (Gordon 2005) and in mobilizing for tenant and immigrant rights (Fine 2006). Because organizing along ethnic lines can be so consequential for a worker center––from determining its industry focus to establishing its organizational allies—I seek to delineate the impact of this organizing strategy on a center’s trajectory. Through an analysis of four campaigns at the Pilipino Workers’ Center (PWC), I trace how one organization implemented the ethnic organizing principle and the resulting support and setbacks it experienced.
“Strangeness at the Gates: The Peculiar Politics of American Immigration” (with Roger Waldinger). International Migration Review (2006) 40(3): 719-734. [link to review essay]
If you do not have free access to any of these publications, please email me for an electronic copy.