The Mercy Workers

Maurice Chammah at The Marshall Project:

The United States has inherited competing impulses: It’s “an eye for an eye,” but also “blessed are the merciful.” Some Americans believe that our criminal justice system — rife with excessively long sentencesappalling prison conditions and racial disparities — fails to make us safer. And yet, tell the story of a violent crime and a punishment that sounds insufficient, and you’re guaranteed to get eyerolls.

In the midst of that impasse, I’ve come to see mitigation specialists like Baldwin as ambassadors from a future where we think more richly about violence. For the last few decades, they have documented the traumas, policy failures, family dynamics and individual choices that shape the lives of people who kill. Leaders in the field say it’s impossible to accurately count mitigation specialists — there is no formal license — but there may be fewer than 1,000. They’ve actively avoided media attention, and yet the stories they uncover occasionally emerge in Hollywood scripts and Supreme Court opinions. Over three decades, mitigation specialists have helped drive down death sentences from more than 300 annually in the mid-1990s to fewer than 30 in recent years.

More here.