The Origins of Mass Incarceration: The Courts and the 1960s Criminal Procedure Revolution?

Apr 8, 2021
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Stephanos BibasU.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

William PizziUniversity of Colorado Law School

Thomas DonnellyCircuit Court of Cook County

This event is co-sponsored by Georgetown University Law Center, Notre Dame Law School, Boston College Law School, the University of St. Thomas School of Law, the Catholic Lawyers Guild of Chicago, Catholic Prison Ministry Coalition, Kolbe House Jail MinistrySeattle University, the Seattle University Crime and Justice Research Center, Loyola University Chicago School of Law, the Hank Center for the Catholic Intellectual Heritage, Fordham University School of Law, the Institute on Religion, Law and Lawyer’s Work at Fordham University School of Law, The Center on Race, Law, and Justice (Fordham University School of Law), the University of Denver College of Law Federalist Society, and the University of Colorado Federalist Society

American principles of justice and equality lead our culture to value the criminal trial as a fair hearing for the accused and vindication for the victims of crime. But the reality of the U.S. justice system falls far short of this ideal, making criminal trials the rare exception amidst a wave of plea bargains. When trials do take place, judges are often forced to impose mandatory sentences that do not fit the unique context of a given case.

Join Judge Stephanos Bibas from the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, and author of The Machinery of Criminal Justice (Oxford University Press, 2015), and Professor William Pizzi, as they discuss Pizzi’s new book, The Supreme Court’s Role in Mass Incarceration (Routledge, 2020). Pizzi provocatively argues that the Supreme Court’s attempts to expand defendants’ rights in the 20th century unexpectedly led to the mass incarceration crisis today. He points to Canada as a beacon of hope, where an unelected, professional judiciary customizes sentences to fit the actual case. Unlike American courts, where judges are forced by repeat-offender laws to sentence defendants to decades for a minor offense, Canada's judiciary freely metes out proportionate sentencing.  

The discussion will be moderated by Cook County Judge Tom Donnelly.

This event is part of the Catholic Criminal Justice Reform Network, a new initiative of the Lumen Christi Institute.


The Honorable Stephanos Bibas is a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Judge Bibas was previously a professor of law and criminology at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. As director of the Penn Law Supreme Court Clinic, he argued six cases before the Supreme Court of the United States and filed briefs in dozens of others.  He graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia University in 1989 with a B.A. in political theory and from Oxford University in 1991 with a B.A. in jurisprudence. He then earned his J.D. from Yale Law School in 1994. After graduating from Yale Law, Judge Bibas clerked for Judge Patrick Higginbotham of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court and was a litigation associate at Covington & Burling LLP in Washington, D.C. Thereafter, Judge Bibas served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York, where he successfully prosecuted the world’s leading expert in Tiffany stained glass for hiring a grave robber to steal priceless Tiffany windows from cemeteries. Before his tenure at Penn Law, Judge Bibas taught at the University of Chicago Law School and the University of Iowa College of Law and was a research fellow at Yale Law School. He has published two books and more than sixty scholarly articles.

William T. Pizzi is Professor Emeritus at the University of Colorado Law School. Professor Pizzi graduated from Holy Cross College in 1965 and received his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1971. After obtaining his law degree, he began his legal career as an Assistant United States Attorney in New Jersey, his home state. In 1975, Professor Pizzi moved to Colorado and began teaching at Colorado Law where he taught for 35 years. His scholarship is heavily comparative and, to that end, he has spent time in courtrooms in many countries. He has lectured abroad for the United States Information Service as well as
the Ford Foundation and has taught courses in Sweden, England, and Italy. In 2020, he published The Supreme Court’s Role in Mass Incarceration, which argues that decisions of the Supreme Court – some well-known, some not well-known - contributed to mass incarceration by making trials increasingly rare.

The Honorable Thomas More Donnelly serves as a Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County. Sworn in as a judge in 2000, he currently serves in the Law Division, Commercial Calendar, and has tried over 300 jury trials. He currently sits on the Illinois Judicial College Board of Trustees with a term expiring 2023 and serves as liaison to the Committee on Judicial Education. From 2016 to 2019, he served as the inaugural chair of the Illinois Judicial College Board. Additionally, he serves on the faculty of the National Judicial College and teaches judges around the country. He served on the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Pretrial Practices from its inception until its final report 2018-2020. The Illinois Supreme Court appointed him as one of two judicial representatives on the Statutory Court Fee Task Force and he served on the task force from its inception until its final report 2016-2019. He has taught at Loyola Law School for the past thirty years. While he has taught five different courses, he currently teaches Illinois Civil Procedure. He has taught or lectured at many other law schools:  Marquette, University of Chicago, Washington & Lee, DePaul. He teaches widely with bar associations and other groups.