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  • Hey, it's Marie Forleo, and you are watching MarieTV.

  • The place to be to create a business and life you love.

  • If you've ever taken a look at our criminal justice system and thought to yourself, "There

  • must be a better way," this episode is a must watch.

  • Judge Victoria Pratt has gained international acclaim for her commitment to reforming the

  • criminal justice system.

  • While presiding over Newark Community Solutions, she offers defendants in minor criminal cases

  • a chance to avoid jail by obeying specific rules of behavior, including: community service,

  • counseling and introspective essays.

  • A nationally recognized expert in procedural justice and alternative sentencing, Judge

  • Pratt has appeared on MSNBC, PBS and NPR among others.

  • She is licensed to practice law in New Jersey and New York, and is admitted to the US Supreme

  • Court.

  • Judge Pratt thank you so much for making the time for being here.

  • As I was telling you off camera, when I saw a clip of your talk, I was like "Who is this

  • brilliant woman?

  • We need to have her on the show.

  • We need to have this conversation."

  • So thank you for making the time.

  • Thank you so much for having me on.

  • You know, the judge doesn't usually get invited to parties, so.

  • Before we talk about your incredible work with criminal justice reform, I wanna back.

  • We're both from Jersey.

  • You grew up in the suburb of Newark, the daughter of a Dominican beautician and an African American

  • garbage man.

  • So as young as nine, you found yourself helping your parents and their friends navigate government

  • systems, like the DMV.

  • Talk to us about how that experience laid the groundwork for your future.

  • So when you're the English speaking child, first generation of a Spanish or a foreign

  • speaking language person, you become that person, right, even as a child, that is responsible

  • for helping people fill out forms, getting information to the government, and understanding

  • and navigating systems.

  • And so at that age, you end up having to learn very quickly, usually as you show up to the

  • place.

  • And so it began to teach me, one, my responsibility to others, who really couldn't navigate systems,

  • but how complicated systems were, and they didn't need to be.

  • And how we could actually expect ... how could you expect a citizen ... just because

  • they don't speak the language, doesn't mean that they're not entitled to the full rights

  • of citizenship ... to use these systems.

  • And so it became very frustrating to me.

  • It would be very easy just to have an English and Spanish speaking sign, if that's the population

  • that you serve.

  • They're both tax paying citizens.

  • And also, how employees treated people when they came to these places, that they were

  • required to come to.

  • So that really began to lay the groundwork for me, insisting that people understood things

  • and kind of makingbreaking complex theories and situations into very tangible, understandable

  • situations as well.

  • So there's a lot of folks in our audience, who have big dreams, big dreams of what they

  • wanna do with their careers, what they wanna do with their education, what they might wanna

  • do with their businesses and their families.

  • And those dreams always don't come to fruition first time out the gate.

  • I know after undergraduate, you had a dream to go to law school.

  • But that didn't quite work out the first time.

  • Tell us about that, and also why law?

  • So I've always wanted to change the world.

  • I never believed that I couldn't.

  • I mean there were things that would come up.

  • I'm like, "Oh, okay.

  • I'm just gonna figure out how I'm gonna change the world."

  • But I knew that I could use my gifts to impact the world.

  • And probably going into my junior year, I decided that I was going to be a literacy

  • teacher.

  • And I ended up taking this class at Rutgers Law School and thought, "Oh my God.

  • This is where I need to be."

  • Went back to school, declared my major, and starting preparing for the LSAT.

  • Took the LSAT, applied to law school and could not believe that I did not get into law school.

  • I literally stalked the dean at Rutgers.

  • That sounds like something I would do.

  • I went everywhere.

  • I was like, "Yeah.

  • I don't understand.

  • You clearly did not see what I had in my application."

  • And she was like, "You know what?

  • Go get some life experience, and then come back and talk to us."

  • And so I went to work at La Casa De Don Pedro, which is the largest Hispanic social service

  • center.

  • So what I wanted to do, was be of service, so I continued to do that.

  • I think that, that's a part of what happens to people.

  • They try one time.

  • It doesn't happen.

  • And the reality is, that all of your experiences are really preparing you for that thing that

  • you want.

  • And so I was teaching women who were on welfare.

  • They were going from welfare to work.

  • And I realized still, I'm not gonna be able to change the world one class at a time.

  • I really need to be able to go in there, impact policies, and look at the law, and even if

  • it's one case at a time.

  • And I decided that I'd do this and re-apply.

  • I was able to do that and get in.

  • I think my advice to people is that, get fixated, get obsessed with that thing that you know

  • is not right and that you could change, and change it, in spite of fear.

  • It's not doing these things and not being afraid, it's being afraid of them, feeling

  • the fear, and deciding that this thing is more important than the fear, you know.

  • The more things you try to change in the world, the higher you go, the larger and the greater

  • the dragons you have to slay.

  • Yes.

  • So, decide.

  • For me, it's thewhat if.”

  • I do not want to live with, what if I had done this?

  • Yes.

  • That is greater than any other fear I could have.

  • And so when I measure it against the thing that I need to do, it always beats it.

  • I'm always like, "Okay.

  • I'm gonna go get with the dragon right now."

  • Yes.

  • I love it.

  • So speaking of that ... now, you were an attorney for a while.

  • Tell me about the vision then, to become a judge.

  • So I went to work at the city of Newark as the council to the municipal council.

  • And I started to see these people come in.

  • Cory Booker had just become the mayor in the city.

  • I went to work for Mildred Crump, the council president at the time.

  • These people were coming in and they were becoming judges.

  • I thought, "Wow.

  • What an amazing opportunity to really impact people's lives."

  • Because most people will only see the justice system at the municipal level.

  • And to think that you could be speaking potential into the lives of people at the lowest level,

  • but just anyone who comes there, particularly young people, who like in New Jersey, at 18,

  • you're considered an adult.

  • You end up in a criminal court, because you've done something simple, and something kind

  • of stupid.

  • And right now, with the zero tolerance policies that we have in the schools, things that my

  • generation would get sent to the principal's office for, you now get sent to the police

  • officer, who's in the school.

  • And most of the schools have more security and police officers than they even have guidance

  • counselors.

  • You do something stupid.

  • Police officer actually files a complaint against you and you end up in municipal court

  • ... Wow.

  • for something that, again, a couple of years ago, you would have been sent to the

  • principal's office, and gotten detention or something for.

  • So we're beginning to criminalize our children, even at an earlier age.

  • What happens when you prevent a kid at 18, cause they're still a kid.

  • I know people are gonna be mad when they hear it.

  • No.

  • I was definitely still a kid.

  • At 18 ... I was still a kid at 18.

  • And then all of the collateral consequences that you now impose on this kid because they

  • did what?

  • I had one kid, who ... he jumped on the back of a police cruiser and took a selfie and

  • put it on Facebook.

  • Now, the police officer probably could have smacked him in the back of the head.

  • You know, his friends were egging him on to do it.

  • He got charged with being a disorderly person, and got sent to my court.

  • And this was a kid who was about to go to college.

  • Now, what happens in New Jersey, that disorderly person's offense has collateral consequences

  • with it, including his DNA that now has to go into the DNA bank.

  • Now, I don't know about you, I definitely want any government to have my DNA.

  • Absolutely not.

  • 100%.

  • So those are some, of the things that I really knew we could attack at the municipal court

  • level, even before I became a judge.

  • So then, that was the inspiration then.

  • What was it like when that day actually came, and you were sworn in?

  • Oh, it was the most beautiful thing that I've experienced.

  • And it was beautiful, not just because I was becoming a judge, but we packed our council

  • office, over 300 hundred people showed up.

  • But the people who showed up, were the gentleman who helped, who made me walk when I was eight

  • months old, a high school teacher, former employers.

  • But what was reallywhat really made me proud were the community people who had shown

  • up, who I had been working with.

  • I mean, one of the community people said to me, "Is your swearing in gonna be open?"

  • I said, "Yeah."

  • And she said, "Yeah, cause you know the streets love you."

  • I thought, what a compliment, because I was of service when I was an attorney.

  • I told you what we could do and what we couldn't do, but that I was a part of this community,

  • and now they were like, "Wow.

  • This judge is gonna be a judge who understands this community."

  • And to me, community is greater than where you live.

  • Rabbi Prince said ... he actually gave a speech right before the, I Have A Dream speech.

  • He said, that communityneighbor is more than your geographical location, but in fact,

  • it is a moral obligation.

  • For me, what we do is both our moral and our professional obligation to our communities.

  • And they're greater than your next door neighbor again.

  • So you've said that being a judge is like having a front row seat to a tragic reality

  • show, that folks often come before you, and they're handcuffed, and they're drug sick

  • and they're depressed and they're hungry, and often mentally ill.

  • Something you shared really struck me.

  • I'm quoting you.

  • "When I saw that their need for help was greater than my fear of appearing vulnerable on the

  • bench, I realized that, not only did I need to do something, but that in fact I could

  • do something."

  • So let's talk about procedural justice.

  • I'm just learning about this, because I've had such the pleasure of learning more about

  • your work.

  • But what is it, for everyone in the audience who isn't familiar, and why could it be so

  • transformative?

  • And is it so transformative?

  • Procedural justice is a concept that say, "If people perceive that they are treated

  • fairly and with dignity, and respect by the system, by the court, then not only does it

  • increase their compliance with court orders, it increases their compliance with the law.

  • And it also increases the public's trust in the system."

  • And so what it does is that, the public has to see the court as a legitimate authority

  • to impose rules and regulations.

  • People don't just follow the rules, because you say so.

  • They say so, because they see you as a legitimate authority, that has the right to tell them

  • what to, and not to do.

  • And so this idea of procedural justice, this idea that people come before you, and that

  • they perceive that you are treating them fairly, and with dignity and respect and that it transforms

  • their behavior, that it changes how they behave, because they are engaged with the court differently.

  • Yes, people ... Not only does it change how they behave, but they'll even be satisfied

  • with the disposition of their case, even when you rule against them.

  • Yes, people are ... Everybody wants to win.

  • Sure.

  • Everybody wants to win, but that they'll be satisfied, that their belief will like, "Well,

  • even though the judge got it wrong, they gave me an opportunity to speak, and they heard

  • my side of the facts, before they made a decision," as well.

  • So this idea of treating people who are in crisis ... when people come to court, they're

  • in crisis.

  • You get a speeding ticket, you're in crisis, you know?

  • And you're a person with means.

  • That they would come to court and they'd have all of these social ills, and that's one of

  • the issues.

  • You know, we are criminalizing social ills.

  • We're really sending them now, we're sending them to judges and saying, "Do something about

  • them.

  • I want this person to stop offending."

  • Well, what I have is a criminal justice approach that I'm now applying to social ills.

  • And it doesn't fix what's bringing them before the court, doesn't change it at all.

  • And so when I was serving as a judge and these people were coming before me and I was disposing

  • of their cases, and then they'd leave, I still hadn't helped them resolve the issue that

  • was bringing them before me.

  • So yes, it was this conveyor belt of justice.

  • The person who came before me who was a drug addict, they'd get 90 days for having possession

  • of drugs.

  • But what I knew was on the 91st day, they were still gonna be a drug addict, cause I

  • hadn't done anything in the first 90 days to impact, or change their behavior, but even

  • offering them assistance.

  • So that this idea of also being able to talk to them and to get them to talk to you, and

  • seeing them.

  • Yes.

  • And so that's what procedural justice ... so this idea of feeling uncomfortable ... Sometimes

  • judges feel really uncomfortable.

  • “I'm gonna ask this person questions about themselves, and maybe reveal something about

  • myself in the process.”

  • In my talk, I talk about the gentleman who was drug sick and he had his head down and

  • he was shaking on the table.

  • But I saw a human being who was going through something.

  • And I asked him – then I asked him about his son.

  • Why?