We invited Andrew Manuel Crespo to speak with us as part of the Myths of Public Safety: Pretrial speaker series. Crespo is the Morris Wasserstein Public Interest Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and Executive Faculty Director of the Institute to End Mass Incarceration.

The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to a speedy trial by a jury of one’s peers, where the state bears the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. But more than 90% of state and federal convictions are the result of guilty pleas, not criminal trials. Plea bargaining, once an anomalous shortcut to the system, has become the system itself. Ten years ago, Susan Burton, a formerly incarcerated organizer, and scholar Michelle Alexander questioned how people refusing to participate in the state’s grind of guilty pleas might be able bring the whole criminal legal system crashing to a halt

Prof. Crespo’s recent article, “No Justice, No Pleas: Subverting Mass Incarceration Through Defendant Collective Action,” takes that thought experiment as a jumping off point and builds upon it, teasing out some of the transformational possibilities and potential pitfalls that flow from the idea of a plea strike collectively organized by people accused of crimes. 

We discussed his scholarship and the work that the Institute to End Mass Incarceration is doing to explore and support collective action among people being prosecuted.

Links to resources mentioned during the event:

The Michelle Alexander op-ed, "Go to Trial: Crash the Justice System," is available here:

For some thoughts on what tactics organizers are already using to contest criminal punishment, see this great piece by Raj Jayadev (Silicon Valley De-Bug) and Pilar Weiss (Community Justice Exchange):

Some of Crystal Yang and Will Dobbie's work on pretrial detention:

Crystal Yang has also done related work on judicial vacancies/scarcity reducing pretrial detention:

Research has shown that prison overcrowding impact litigation resulted in a major prison/jail building boom:

To learn more about participatory defense, visit:



Andrew Manuel CrespoAndrew Manuel Crespo is the Morris Wasserstein Public Interest Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, where he teaches criminal law and procedure and serves as the Executive Faculty Director of the Institute to End Mass Incarceration. Professor Crespo’s research and scholarly expertise center on the institutional design, legal frameworks, and power structures of the American penal system. 

Prior to beginning his academic career, Professor Crespo served as a Staff Attorney with the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, where he represented over one hundred adults and juveniles charged with serious felonies, ranging from armed robberies, to burglaries, to homicides. As a member of the Harvard Law School faculty he continues to be active in litigation, authoring merits stage and amicus briefs on various issues, often in close collaboration with his students. 
Professor Crespo graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 2008, where he served as president of the Harvard Law Review, the first Latino to hold that position.  Following law school, Professor Crespo served for three years as a law clerk, initially to Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, then to Associate Justice Stephen Breyer of the U.S. Supreme Court, and finally to Associate Justice Elena Kagan during her inaugural term on the Court.  Following his time as a public defender, Professor Crespo returned to Harvard as an assistant professor of law in 2015. In 2019, he became the first Latino promoted to a tenured position on the law school’s faculty.


Katy Naples-MitchellKaty Naples-Mitchell, Program Director of the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, is the moderator of  the Myths of  Public Safety speaker series.





Katy Naples-MitchellSandra Susan SmithThe Myths of  Public Safety speaker series is organized by Katy Naples-Mitchell, Program Director of the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, and  Sandra Susan Smith, Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice; Faculty Director, Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management; Director, Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy; Professor of Sociology; and Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute.