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A limited-run email series about how criminal justice really works in America, from The Marshall Project.

On TV the U.S. criminal justice system is straightforward. You commit a crime. Police arrest you and take you to jail. You bail yourself out, face a jury of your peers and go to prison if you’re convicted.

In real life, it’s anything but a straight line. It’s more like a labyrinth, a jumble of laws, enforcement agencies and courts layered over federal, state and local jurisdictions.

The System is your starting point.

Week 01
Week 02
Week 03
Week 04

I believe our criminal justice is not just. I know we can do better because we know better. I want to contribute to the revamping of our justice system and to do that, I need to be informed. The Marshall Project informs me and helps me focus on what I can do to be the change I wish to see.


Each week, you'll receive emails focused on facets of the justice system, from policing to bail to prisons and jails. We'll take it apart, exploring its origins, inequities, portrayals in popular culture, and lastly, possibilities for change.


Through years of research, reporting and lived experience, we have built a deep body of knowledge about how the criminal justice labyrinth works. The System draws on this expertise to help untangle the roots and current realities of American criminal justice.

The System November 13, 2020
Sure, prisons and jails are dangerous places. But everyday life inside isn’t as explosive as TV and movies make it look.
The System November 11, 2020
The United States locks up more people per capita than any other developed country. Here’s why.
The System November 4, 2020
“We put together the most cumbersome and expensive trial system that the world has ever seen, and then we decided we can’t do it for all but a tiny, tiny portion of people.”
The System October 30, 2020
Bail reform is state-by-state and full of fits and starts. Some activists are taking direct action, raising funds to bail out defendants too poor to pay.
The System October 28, 2020
A tool that is supposed to ensure that people make their court dates has become another avenue for class and race inequities.
The System October 23, 2020
What do advocates mean when they call for “defunding,” “abolishing” or “reimagining” the police?
The System October 21, 2020
Police forces in the U.S. were originally founded to secure private property—including human beings.