Podcasts About The Criminal Justice Reform Topic (Part 1)

In “Using Podcasts To Become A Better Debater,” I argued that podcasts are an underutilized resource that can help debaters enhance their content knowledge and practice their listening and flowing skills. In the five years since that article was published, the podcast boom has continued to grow. In 2019, “at least 90 million U.S. consumers (27% of the population) listen[ed] to podcasts monthly.”

More new podcasts are being produced than ever before, and many are related to the issues that debaters will be researching for the 2020-2021 criminal justice reform topic. In this two-part series, I will recommend some of the podcasts that I think will be most useful for students as they study and prepare to debate criminal justice reform.

In this article — part one — I will suggest five podcasts that are entirely about criminal justice reform and related issues. All or nearly all of the episodes from these podcasts will be useful for debaters researching criminal justice reform.

In part two, I will suggest individual episodes from other podcasts that are relevant to the criminal justice reform topic. Some of these are one-off episodes from podcasts that normally do not cover criminal justice reform issues; others are from podcasts that cover those issues often but not exclusively.

Criminal Injustice

Criminal Injustice is a podcast about the many injustices in the U.S.’s criminal justice system. It is written and hosted by David Harris, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. It debuted in March 2016.

As of this writing, Criminal Injustice has released 118 regular episodes (each typically about an hour long) and many shorter bonus episodes. Topics vary widely, but they are all connected in some way to the criminal justice system. Guests are usually academics, but Harris has also interviewed activists, journalists, practicing attorneys, current and former law enforcement officials, judges, and many other experts. Conversations are smart, in-depth, thought-provoking, and often quite timely.

The show’s RSS feed only goes back to episode 104, but the entire archive of past episodes is available on the criminalinjusticepodcast.com website; you can start with the most recent episodes or the oldest episodes and click through to see the rest. Patreon subscribers ($5/month) can also unlock additional bonus episodes.

Representative episodes relevant to debate arguments include:


Beyond Prisons

Beyond Prisons is an abolitionist podcast hosted by Kim Wilson and Brian Sonenstein. It debuted in April 2017; as of this writing, it has released a little over 50 episodes. The first episode begins with a good explanation of why the podcast exists and what it will attempt to accomplish. Subsequent episodes have explored various aspects of policing and prisons from an abolitionist perspective; interview guests include academics, activists, journalists, and others working to transform the carceral system.

The podcast’s RSS feed includes all of its past episodes. They can also be accessed from their website; to see older episodes, scroll down in the embedded player. The individual episodes are playable, but not linkable.

Representative episodes relevant to debate arguments include:

  • How Do We Get Through This? feat. Kay Whitlock & Donna Murch (June 9, 2020)
  • Abolition Is A Horizon feat. Sarah K. Tyson (May 7, 2019)
  • Political Education feat. Rachel Herzing (April 3, 2019)
  • Bret Grote of Abolitionist Law Center (May 11, 2018)
  • The End of Policing feat. Alex Vitale (December 12, 2017)
  • Are Prisons Obsolete? (YES!) (April 27, 2017)
  • Radical Scholars and Prison Abolition feat. Dr. Anthony Monteiro (April 17, 2017)

Justice In America

Produced by The Appeal, Justice In America is a podcast about the U.S. criminal justice system. The first two seasons were hosted by Josie Duffy Rice and Clint Smith; Smith was replaced for season three by a rotating roster of guest hosts. As of this writing, Justice In America has released 30 regular episodes and many shorter bonus episodes.

In general, each episode focuses on a different issue related to the U.S. criminal justice system. Guests include academics, activists, journalists, and other experts. All episodes are included in the podcast’s RSS feed; they can also be accessed from the podcast’s website.

Representative episodes relevant to debate arguments include:


Reformed: A Criminal Justice Podcast

Reformed is podcast series whose eleven episodes “[explore] the criminal justice system, mass incarceration, and criminal justice reform.” I was unable to find any information about its creator (Anna M. Teitler), but the series provides a useful, basic introduction to the topic. Episodes are relatively short and include interviews with experts. While this podcast is not as professional as many of the others on this list, I do recommend it for debaters looking for a basic, straightforward topic introduction.


Ear Hustle

Ear Hustle is an award-winning Radiotopia podcast produced at San Quentin State Prison. Co-founded by Earlonne Woods, Nigel Poor, and Antwan Williams, the first episode was released in June 2017. During the first three seasons of the podcast, Williams was incarcerated at San Quentin. His sentence was commuted in November 2018 partially due to Ear Hustle’s success. Rahsaan “New York” Thomas replaced Williams as co-host for seasons four and five. Forty-two episodes have been released as of the time of this writing.

The goal of Ear Hustle is to “offer a nuanced view of people involved with the American prison system and those reintegrating into society after serving time.” While it is less directly relevant to specific debate arguments than the other podcasts on this list, it will deeply enrich students’ understanding of those issues — especially the human impacts of criminal justice policies. It does not explicitly critique those policies, but I think it provides an important supplement to debaters’ research.


This is the first article in a two-part series. Part two will include suggested episodes about criminal justice reform from other podcasts. If you would like to recommend a podcast that was not included in this article, please post a comment below.

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