The Marshall Project series "Testify" examines Cuyahoga County criminal justice system

On the "Sound of Ideas," we discuss the series "Testify" from The Marshall Project investigates Cuyahoga County's criminal courts, and who votes for judges. [MIND AND I/shutterstock]
On the "Sound of Ideas," we discuss the series "Testify" from The Marshall Project investigates Cuyahoga County's criminal courts, and who votes for judges. [MIND AND I/shutterstock]
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Back in November, we learned that The Marshall Project, the national nonprofit newsroom covering criminal justice, was launching a news operation in Cleveland, supported by the Gund Foundation. This Cleveland team would be reporting on, and exposing, abuses in Cuyahoga County's criminal justice system. 

Last week, that first investigative reporting effort bore fruit, with the launch of the series, "Testify." 

The first story looks into the topic of judges, and to be specific, who votes for the 34 judges who hear felony criminal cases in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. These elected judges have the power to lock people up, give them probation, divert them to special programs, or even return them to society.

It turns out, most of the thousands of people who face criminal charges each year live in the city of Cleveland, and most of them, are Black. 

But people from the city make up less than a quarter of the people who vote for judges, meaning that votes in predominantly white suburbs in judges' races, effectively carry three times the power of the vote in the majority black city. 
 
The judges themselves are also mostly white. Of the 34 judges currently on the Common Pleas Court, 30 are white and 4 are black, or 88%.

To start this hour on the "Sound of Ideas," we're going to dig into why people most impacted in the system, often don't vote for judicial positions, and why that matters. We'll also talk about how hard it is to make an informed decision about judges, and how to improve the process for voters. 

Later this hour, we'll learn more about a history project at Cleveland State University called Green Book Cleveland, that sets out to map and further document areas that Black people used to avoid harassment before and during the civil rights movement. 

Guests: 

-Wesley Lowery, Contributing Editor, The Marshall Project 

-Retired Judge Ron Adrine 

-Erika Anthony, Co-Founder, Cleveland VOTES 

-Selina Pagan, Executive Director, The Young Latino Network

-Mark Souther, Ph.D., Pr​ofessor of History, Director, Center for Public History + Digital Humanities
Cleveland State University 

-Erich Schnack, Graduate Student in History, Cleveland State University

-Sarah White, Graduate Student in History, Cleveland State University

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