Beth Schwartzapfel

beth-schwartzapfel-200Beth Schwartzapfel is a staff writer with The Marshall Project. Her long-form reporting on the criminal justice system has appeared in Mother Jones, The American Prospect, and the Boston Review. She won the June 2014 Sidney Award, the 2016 James Aronson Award, and the 2016 John Jay College/H.F. Guggenheim Prize for Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting, for which she was also runner up in 2014 and 2015.
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Undiscovered: Do Evidence Laws Force Defendants to Take Pleas “Blindfolded”

In September 2013, a fight broke out on the sidewalk outside the Bronx nightclub where Aaron Cedres worked as a bouncer. It was a confusing scrum of about a dozen people, and one man suffered a broken jaw and deep slashes to his head and back. A month later, Cedres — then a 25-year-old father with no criminal record — was charged with gang assault, which carried the prospect of 25 years in prison. Cameras had been posted outside the club, and the prosecutor said the tapes looked bad for … [Read more...]

Probation-for-Profit Just Got Less Profitable

In Georgia, if you get a traffic ticket and you can’t afford to pay in full up front, you are put on misdemeanor probation until the fine is paid. And in Georgia, as in at least four other states, that probation is typically managed by a for-profit company. These companies — more than 20 in Georgia alone — make tens of millions of dollars each year by tacking additional fees onto probationers’ repayment plans with the threat of jail if they fall behind. Now a modest change in state law has … [Read more...]

When Warriors Wear the Badge

William Thomas, a retired Newark police sergeant, left his home in a body bag. To his dismay, he was still very much alive. A team of cops and medical technicians had strapped his limbs together, stuffing his body into a mesh sack to restrain him after he tried to fight them off. Six hours earlier, Thomas, a decorated narcotics investigator and a veteran of the New Jersey Air National Guard, tortured by post-traumatic stress disorder acquired in Iraq, had downed a fistfull of prescription … [Read more...]

Out of Prison, Uncovered

Before he went to prison, Ernest killed his 2-year-old daughter in the grip of a psychotic delusion. When the Indiana Department of Correction released him in 2015, he was terrified something awful might happen again. He had to see a doctor. He had only a month’s worth of pills to control his delusions and mania. He was desperate for insurance coverage. But the state failed to enroll him in Medicaid, although under the Affordable Care Act Indiana expanded the health insurance program, … [Read more...]

The States Where Voters Decided to Give Criminal Justice Reform a Try

Even as Americans ushered in a presidential candidate who favors hard-line law enforcement tactics on Tuesday, voters still passed criminal justice reform measures by comfortable margins in many states. In California, 64 percent of voters passed Proposition 57. The measure provides those serving time for nonviolent felonies an opportunity for parole and allows them to earn early-release credits for taking educational and rehabilitative programs. It also moves the decision of whether to … [Read more...]

This Machine Could Prevent Gun Violence — If Only Cops Used It

On a humid day in April 2009, the sound of gunfire drew police to a suburban home in Jefferson Parish, La. Officers found no shooters or victims — just an empty backyard littered with shell casings. In an area with the nation's highest gun death rate, the incident seemed pretty minor. "Garden-variety case," is how one detective described it. Still, the casings were taken to the crime lab and entered into a huge federal database run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and … [Read more...]