Adam Foss, former assistant district attorney and co-founder of Prosecutor Integrity, spoke about prison reform and the broken criminal justice system on Wednesday in the Forum.
Speaking about the criminal justice and prison systems in America, Foss said, “We are sitting in the midst of the worst human rights crisis that we’ve seen in a long time … and it’s happening outside of these doors.”
Foss described the severity of the problem, and stated that today in America, there are more black men in prison than there were slaves in 1850.
This was only one of the statistics Foss used to explain how the American prison system is “broken,” especially compared to those of other countries.
Foss said people attribute this problem to a lack of leadership. He said people are waiting for the next Martin Luther King, Jr. or Rosa Parks to step up, and while we wait, people are going to jail.
Foss is tired of waiting.
The human and financial costs are too great to continue to wait, Foss said.
At 19 years old, Foss was caught possessing marijuana. He said if the police officer had not been his father, and if he had not grown up in a white family with that afforded privilege, he would have been forced down a different path.
Foss explained that privilege is nobody’s fault, and is a “weapon” that can be used to educate others on their own privilege. He begged the audience not to lay their “weapons” down.
Foss illustrated the other path by telling the story of Adonis, a client he had while in law school interning for a defense attorney.
Foss said Adonis was on track to play D1 football until he tore his ACL and became addicted to OxyContin.
One night, Adonis, high on opiates, killed a drug dealer in a robbery gone wrong. He was convicted of murder at 19 years old and sentenced to life without parole.
Foss explained that society had so many opportunities to stop that murder from occurring.
He also expressed the fundamental problem with the willingness to lock people in cages for seventy years, and spending the taxpayers’ money to do so instead of spending that money elsewhere.
Foss said this was when he decided to become a prosecutor. He believes prosecutors are “the most powerful actors in the criminal justice system.”
While the prison system isn’t working, people are not “pissed off enough to change it” or are afraid of changing it.
Foss cited the Black Lives Matter movement, and said it was effective because it was a collective body saying, “We’ve had enough of this, and it needs to stop.”
In order for reform to happen in prisons and the criminal justice system, the same thing needs to happen, Foss said.
Foss closed by saying, “You’ve got 50 years to decide what kind of fingerprint you want to leave.”