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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 making – breaking 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.
So, decide. For me, it’s the “what if.” I do not want to live with, what if I had done this?
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 …
… 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 really – what 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 community – neighbor 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.
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.
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? Because I knew his son – if he had a kid, I knew his kid was important to him.
And that he looked at me, and was like, “Yeah, I’ve got a 32 year old son.” It blew his mind, he had no idea, why would the judge care? Well, I know that if you care about something, that’s going to work and help me get you closer to changing your behavior. In that instance, not only did this guy go get treatment, his son became his sponsor, which also means that his son ended up having an addiction, but that now his son becomes this person who helps him through this space.
I wasn’t belittling him, but it was true. A person – you can’t worship two masters. A person who has a drug addiction can’t give themselves fully to their children, and so while he’s numbing the guilt from feeling that, well, now I’m going to give you some assistance so one, we can deal with that issue, but then you can be restored to your family as well.
So rather than having someone come before you and just putting them through the process, what procedural justice really creates the space for is humanity.
For restoring humanity.
Restoring humanity, absolutely. I love that. There are so many stories, and I hope we’ll get to more of them in this conversation, but just asking someone, “Do you have children? Is there someone else in your life that cares about you?” When I read that the tears were streaming down his face because no one had taken the time to even ask, or care.
So there are four key principles to procedural justice, and I want to go through this. This is what I love that you said, “They’re easy and free.”
They’re easy and free.
They’re easy and free, and any court system could adopt these, should they have the interest and the heart and the foresight and understanding for how transformative these principles can be.
So let’s start with the first principle, which is voice, and giving people the opportunity to speak. Let’s talk about personal essays, and tell us what they are and why you assign them?
The idea that essays are actually cathartic, right? And they give you an opportunity to hear what’s going on in a person’s mind and also in their soul. “What is it that I need to know about you?” And so the essay topics give them voice that they otherwise wouldn’t have, especially in a court that’s really moving and that has a serious high volume caseload that you’re going through, and there may be people in the audience that you have to tend to as well. So that they become more than just case 527.
And so I started giving essays because people I felt needed to tell me more, but then the reality is it’s not even just me knowing about their business, it’s really them facing some of the things that they’re going through.
So the essay that says, “If I believed one positive thing about myself how would my life be different?” Really that’s about them – you know what that essay does? For two weeks before they come back to read it, they’re thinking about positive things about themselves – an exercise that they’ve never had. Then they write about this thing. But then it also, as I talk about giving you more information, we once had a young woman come to court who I had as a part of … she went to youth court, but as a part of her criminal sentence … she got picked up for having a knife in school and a part of her sentence was go to youth court, but also read this essay in court.
She wrote, “I am so sorry I had this knife, I didn’t intend to hurt anyone. I’m just scared all the time. I’m scared when I walk to school, I’m scared when I walk home from school. I’m scared when I’m at home at night and I sleep with this knife under my pillow, and I barricade myself in my room.”
And I thought, “My God, we have failed this child.” We failed her because her community is unsafe, because the adults haven’t made it a place that’s safe for her. A day went by and I called her social worker and was like, “Oh my God, this child is barricading herself in her room, what is going on?” Well, we came to find out that her mother’s boyfriend had been sexually molesting her. She wrote it in this essay, in a space that she had gotten a criminal complaint and didn’t feel comfortable telling the police officer, “The reason I have this knife is because this thing is happening to me.” And so this was a victim who showed up in court as a defendant.
And again, as I said, I sat there listening to her and I was like, “This is our fault.” We bring this child into court as a defendant and we haven’t done what we were supposed to do for them. So this idea of giving a person an opportunity to speak, but also to reflect voices is really significant, especially for folks who people don’t see. People don’t notice the homeless person who’s on the street. We don’t know what caused this person to have this situation. In the city of Newark, you know, we have a large homeless population, really one caused by New Jersey Transit is the – or Penn Station, as it is in New York, is the largest unofficial homeless station.
People go there, I mean, I’ve had people travel from Florida say, “Oh yeah Judge, I just took the bus up from Florida and I live in this space,” so giving them voice to help them with all their own issues as well.
One of the second principles is neutrality, and also understanding the process. I don’t know if you want to go into neutrality, we can certainly do it. I want to make sure that everyone in the audience understands the four principles, but yeah-
So neutrality is this idea that people have to perceive that the process is neutral, that when they come to court they’re going to be able to get justice because the judge is not in cahoots with the officer. It’s literally almost said like that sometimes as if I’ve sent officers out to issue summons’ or issue complaints, it’s a different branch of government, but when people come to court they have to see that. They have to see that the judge is a neutral arbiter. Sometimes it gets cloudy if people come in and they think that the judge is joking around with this person, with the officer, or the prosecutor more so than anyone else in the courtroom.
There’s going off the record and going into the back in chambers. It’s important that judges explain what’s happening when we do that because sometimes we get up, we go in the back, and we’re in there with the prosecutor and the attorney and the person is like, “I don’t get to go in the back. What’s happening? What are they talking about?” And this idea that people don’t feel like the process is neutral, and that’s paramount when you want people to trust the system. “Why would I do what you tell me to do if I don’t think that you’re treating me fair because you’re in cahoots with the state or someone else?”
And then this process of understanding. In the city of Newark, I think last year we translated 24 languages. Now, you come to court, you don’t get to decide whether you get a summons or an issue, some people do, but this idea that when you come in you need to be able to understand what the consequences are of your action, because sometimes the consequences are greater than just getting a fine.
And there are immigration consequences if you’re not a citizen. Well, you’re like, “I’m a resident,” but there are certain low level offenses that get people deported back to their country. And so it’s important that people understand the process. You’re talking to people and we’re dealing with people who have mental health issues. I’ve been in court and people are … I’m talking to them and they’re talking to the voices, or they’re hearing the voices, so they can’t focus on me. I have an obligation to make sure that they understand what might happen if they don’t get a public defender.
What happens when a person can’t read? When there’s a literacy issue, and they’re facing a consequence of magnitude, which means you will be going to jail? If it’s a shoplifting case, a shoplifting case means you get 90 days – mandatory 90 days in jail. You just want to go home because you can’t read the paperwork, you have a complaint, you don’t know what they said you did, and I don’t slow down enough to find out that, “Wow, this person just needs someone to help them fill out the public defender form.”
So even though they’re saying, “No, I don’t want a public defender,” they’re really saying, “I can’t read this form so I can’t fill it out.” And what it is – what is my obligation in that instance? Maybe you get a new court date so someone at home can fill that out, or someone sitting in the courtroom can help you fill out this information, so that you truly go through a process that is fair for you where you are, and not at the level of everyone else who’s reading at a higher level than you can.
I love what you share too, you said, “Legalese is the language we use to confuse.”
So, I mean, I see that all the time in business. I’m like, “What does this mean?” And it is. It is really confusing. I love this commitment to helping people understand the process.
Something as simple as asking a person who’s representing themselves, the judge would say, “Sir, are you proceeding pro se?” The person is like, “The prosecutor’s the pro, I’m the amateur.”
“Are you representing yourself?”
“Well, let me tell you the dangers of representing yourself,” but just literally a change in the word and the person just feels comfortable, and again, they understand that you … it increases public trust because “now the judge is ensuring that I have the same fairness as everyone else, one, especially the people who can afford to have an attorney in this process. I can’t afford to have an attorney, so when you speak to me, maybe you need to ensure that I understand what happens.”
Yes. So let’s talk about, I guess, what my favorite principle is, the last one, respect. You said the good thing about respect is that it’s contagious. That gets an amen on every day of the week, all around the world, five thousand times over. Walk us through some of the ways that treating defendants with respect has played out in your courtroom?
It’s something as simple as, “Good morning, ma’am. Good afternoon, sir. Good morning.” I’m acknowledging that a person maybe … if a person runs in late it may have been … they may be relying on the bus system and we know that when it rains, rain stops the revolution, so your bus is going to be late. The train is going to be late. And acknowledging that. Acknowledging that it might take more time. Seeing them. And Dr. King talks about our somebody-ness. And it’s this idea that you see a person, that you see them fully.
In my TED talk I talk about the transgender prostitute who comes into court and she’s expecting everyone to treat her disrespectfully because that is how she walks through the world. The stares, not being taken seriously, the snickers. She comes to court and she watches a judge treat everyone who comes before she’s called with respect. That is what I mean about it being contagious.
So she’s now, and people do this, they impute the respect that you give to other people to themselves. There’s a standard that, “Oh wow, the judge was respectful to this person, so I’m going to be respectful to the judge because that is the standard in this courtroom. That’s how she does,” right? As opposed to being knuckled up and angry and waiting for a fight before you come in. Because they’ve already had a fight with the officer they’ve encountered. Right? They may have encountered someone in the courthouse, maybe going through security that’s already annoyed them. Now they come to court, maybe somebody was barking orders at them.
You know, I’m very big on we want to hold people to a certain standard when they come into the courtroom. Let’s make sure they know what the rules are before they come in so that they’re not being, “Take your hat off! Turn your phone off!” Or, “Pull your shirt in!” All of those things are rules that the court has. Courts have different rules. So this idea of respect, being respectful, of how we speak to people, respectful of how we engage them based on what their situation is.
I mean, I – we once had a gentleman who thought he was a pirate and every time he came to court he had to sit in the front row, and I guess it’s because he believed he was steering the ship from that space. And one day he came to court late and I was already doing my opening and the officer was trying to usher him to the back. He started like physically pushing the officer, “No,” because he had to get to this seat, and I waved to the officer, “Let him have his seat,” and if you were sitting in his seat you had to move. You had to move, but that was showing him respect. He’s this older gentleman, and so the younger person that has to move to give him his seat, that’s life. That’s what you should be doing anyway.
And so other people see that and they’re like, “Wow, so if I need something …” Respect is seeing an older person come up on a cane and offering them a seat so they don’t have to stand before you because it’s painful to them. So that’s respect, and it is contagious. Then people start to behave respectfully to other folks in the courtroom. They start saying, “Oh, I’m going to give you this seat,” or making space for them and treating the community …
There’s sometimes I’ll have a young person who’ll come in with a whole bunch of attitude. I’m a nice judge, but I’m known as the tough judge with the big heart. So I’ll say, “You know what? You better go outside, and somebody better tell him who he’s dealing with and where he is,” and what I love that happens is that people in the courtroom get up and go outside to talk to that person. I love that because it’s the community helping each other. They’re like, “Look, don’t go in there with all that, just be respectful and it’ll be an easy process.”
But to me, that is, now the community is teaching this young person how to behave respectfully in this space. And they know they have an obligation to do it. But also they do it – so that’s one of my favorite things that happens in court, because people now take it upon themselves. “Young man, I’m gonna help you with this.”
So that is respect to me. So yes, it’s not even having to speak to the person who’s sitting in the audience. But they feel respected, because you’ve respected the person that they’ve come with. “Mom come up,” sometimes a young person or somebody will come up with someone, “Come on up here, since you came to court. Tell me what’s going on,” and I’ll address them as their title in relationship to that person. Right? So you are Mom. Tell me what’s going on with your son. I don’t like all this rolling of this, what is going on? And I know you’re gonna tell me the truth. Right?
That’s how important, how significant respect is. And that is why I can walk through my community without security. That is why sometimes I’ve seen gang members down the street and they’re like “Judge, let me walk you back.” I’m like “Uh-uh, walk me down the street? They’ll shoot at you, I’m good.”
But this idea that I treat you with respect, even when I have to send you to jail. I’ve had people say “Thank you for those 90 days, I needed them.” Because they knew, but before they went to jail I explained, “This is why you’re getting 90 days. Because I gave you these chances, and you didn’t take the chances. And you have to be responsible for your actions.”
So I think it really does change the character of the community, and it changes what people see the justice system as.
Your courtroom has been described as an off-Broadway show. Lots of cheering and clapping, and often people really desiring coming back to report an update. I wanna talk about praise, and why it’s so important, especially in the courtroom.
Especially in the courtroom. Again, we’re talking about people who – their lives are usually out of order. I mean, poverty, what does poverty do to you? What does it do to you when you are ill, physically, and also mentally ill? When you are a mother facing eviction, and you come to court and you’re like “I can’t be here because I have to find a place to live with my children,” so folks come to court, like I said, they’re in crisis. And sometimes it’s the first time that anyone has said “Good job.”
Like, I know entire families, generations of families, that end up coming through court. Right? “So if Grandma’s addicted, my uncle’s addicted, my mom’s addicted, who’s left to raise me? Who’s taking care of me? Who’s telling me that wow, I’m really talented?”
So a person writes an essay, and I’m always … what pours out of people when they write these essays, it’s amazing. I mean, I give articles that are written on collegiate level, because that’s how I see you. It’s like my gift and my curse. I see people as they ought to be. And then it drives me insane when they behave outside of that. So I get fixated on “No no no, we’re going to live as this person,” and that’s the person who’s gonna come to court all the time.
And so we have the gentleman who’s been addicted for 20 years, and when he was 18 wanted to be a Green Beret. And of course at 18 is when the signs of schizophrenia begin to appear in him, so he couldn’t get into the service. And he comes to court one day, he’s always getting these quality of life tickets, because he’s homeless and he’s always, as I call him, in the way doing something.
And finally after almost a year, he agrees to do this program. Okay, so you’re gonna do the program? He’s like “Yeah Judge, you know. I wanna be one of these jokers you clap for.” And I thought, my God, how powerful that was. That’s what he wanted, he wanted to be in a place where a person of authority is like “Good job. You look good today, I’m glad you got a haircut. It looks like, you know, you’re doing what you’re supposed to do. You went to your mandates, excellent. I heard you did a good job at community service.” So even our community service providers are writing, “Did a really good job at community service.”
So now, again, your sense of worth is being seen, and not just this bad act. You know, of course people are greater than the worst thing that they’ve done, but that you’re only reminded of who you are, of that bad thing you come to court. But then you come to court, and I’m like “Listen. I expect you to return to this community as a productive member of society. That’s what I need from you, and that’s what I’m gonna hold you to.”
So yes, so we clap, we smile. A person, you know, graduates from high school _ I shame people into that too. A person graduates from high school and I clap, and if my entire audience doesn’t clap I’m like “Oh no no no, people go to prison and come out and we throw them a party. We’re gonna clap for this young person.” Oh okay, let’s try it again. So yes
So yes, we do do that.
And tell me about, I heard that someone in a black SUV pulled up to you recently on your street. Can you share that story please?
So, this is why treating people with respect is important, because you never know where you’re gonna be. I was driving down a street, trying to make a legal left turn, and I get stuck at the light. And someone in this black SUV with tinted windows pulls up, and the window starts to come down. And I’m like, “oh Lord. This never goes good in movies.”
And the person says, “Judge Pratt!” And I’m like – when I look, it’s this person who, the last time I had heard, they were sitting in federal prison. So my response was “Lazarus has risen!” And the person starts to laugh.
And they’re like, “I went down to the courthouse,” because I’m now at Rutgers Law School teaching problem-solving justice and restorative justice. And they said “I went down to the courthouse to see you, and they told me you’re not there. I have this idea for helping young men change their behavior.” And I’m thinking, this dude just got out of federal prison, and the first place he goes is down to the courthouse to see the judge? And I just thought about the impact of that.
One, again, that’s procedural justice. That’s this idea of respect, that he has this idea, that he now wants to use to help young men, and he knows that if he goes to the courthouse and sits in the back of the courtroom, he’ll get an audience with a judge who will at least, if she can’t help him, send him to different places, or even say “Yeah, on this day, I want you to go outside and talk to these young men. I want you to come to court every day, and then talk to young men about changing their behavior.”
So yes, that was my “SUV, so happy that I treated you with dignity and respect even though I got on you when you were in court.”
Yes. So you’ve shared that your dream is that judges will use these tools to revolutionize the communities that they serve, and that of course these tools are not miracle cure-alls, but they get us light years closer to where we wanna be. Tell us more about that vision of where we wanna be.
I want the courthouse, and I think we all want the courthouse to be a place of justice, that people know they can go there and have their disputes resolved, and know that it’s going to be fair. Whether they win or lose, but that they don’t have to take things into their own hands.
In my TED talk, we talk again about the transgender prostitute. One of the things that was really revealing to me, and it was one of my really good days, was the day that she came before me as a complaining witness in a case of harassment. There was a woman at her building that every time she saw her would call her a pejorative. And instead of taking matters into her own hands, which is what she usually does, she came down to the courthouse and filed a complaint against that woman for harassment.
And I thought – and she came to court and I thought, this is because there is justice here, even for her. “Even for me, there is justice at the courthouse, so I’m gonna take you to court, because you harass me, and this is not fair. And I know that something is going to happen to correct this.”
And it was actually a blessing in disguise, because the woman who had been harassing her had mental health issues and had been drinking, and she was an alcoholic. So we’re actually able to put her in this program, get her back on her medication, and also have her deal with her drug – her alcoholism. Because the reality is, is until we deal with those issues, she’s going to continue to engage in this behavior. But to also get her to see the humanity in this woman that lives in her building, and that you can’t treat her like that, because this is your neighbor.
So yes, this idea of justice, and that people see that there’s justice at the courthouse, and that they believe that the courthouse is for them as well. Because when we do studies, we know that people of color do not feel that way, that there’s no justice. They believe that there’s no justice for them in the courthouses across America. So it’s really important.
I wanna wrap with this. You’ve said, we all can shift the world, and we have an obligation to do it from where we stand.
For anyone watching today who may not be a judge or may not be a part of the criminal justice system, they might not be able to use the power of procedural justice in the way that you have, what can they do to either support you and your work, to support these principles, or to make the difference that they wanna make?
Everything. Vote. Become vocal. Join your organizations. Create organizations. Mentor. Use your gifts and share them. Like, I really wanna thank you for committing your life to helping people live their best lives. Because you could just take your gifts, keep them to yourself, and go make a whole bunch of money. And if what you do is write a check, write a check for causes that really do help people. But don’t give up. People give up too quickly.
You know, I always say, I don’t like to – I don’t run with people who haven’t experienced anything in life, who’ve never failed. Right? Because failure is just an event. It is not a characteristic. And people can’t be failures. But I’ve run with people who’ve fallen and gotten up twice after that. So if you haven’t had those experiences, that means to me that you’ve given up too soon, and that means that when it gets tough for me, when I come to you, you’re gonna tell me “No, don’t do that.”
So people should continue to be steadfast in those things. Correct the wrongs that you see in society. If you can make a contribution, no matter how big or small, do it. Spend five hours less on your phone during the week, and commit to it. And do those things that scare you, because it’s in those things that scare you that you are going to shift the world.
Judge Pratt, I adore you.
Oh, thank you.
Thank you so much for making the time. Thank you for what you’re doing in this world, and I am so excited for this next chapter in your ever unfolding adventure. I am a lifelong fan, and we’re gonna get this work out to as many people as we can.
Thank you so much. And I’m a mutual fan.
Now, Judge Pratt and I would love to hear from you. From everything we discussed today, what’s the biggest insight you’re taking away, and most important, how can you put that insight into action starting now? As always, the best conversations happen over at MarieForleo.com, so head on over there and leave a comment now.
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People believe that – they believe that they are failures, but failure cannot be a person. It can only be something that happened. Right, like my business failed. Not me. So in court, that’s what you see, people who believe they are failures, people who’ve told them “You ain’t never gonna …” Like, to say that, you ain’t never gonna be something, and to carry that, and to live it every day. So you live up to that standard, because we always live up to that.
I don’t run with people who haven’t experienced anything in life, who’ve never failed. Right? Because failure is just an event. It is not a characteristic. And people can’t be failures. But I’ve run with people who’ve fallen and gotten up twice after that. So if you haven’t had those experiences, that means to me that you’ve given up too soon, and that means that when it gets tough for me, when I come to you, you’re gonna tell me “No, don’t do that.” So people should continue to be steadfast in those things. Correct the wrongs that you see in society. If you can make a contribution, do it. No matter how big or small, do it. Spend five hours less on your phone during the week, and commit to it. And do those things that scare you, because it’s in those things that scare you that you are going to shift the world.