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Democracy Works podcast talks with Sarah Koenig Serial and criminal justice

PRESS RELEASE — April 30, 2019

University Park PA, USA—It’s one thing to study criminal justice empirically, as many academics do, but something else entirely to be embedded within the system for an entire year. That’s exactly what Sarah Koenig and her team did on the Serial podcast.

Koenig visited Penn State earlier this spring for a conversation about criminal justice and what she learned while reporting Serial’s third season. The discussion is now available on the Democracy Works podcast, which is produced by the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State and WPSU Penn State. Listen to the episode at or by searching “Democracy Works” in your favorite podcast app.

The Serial team spent a year observing trials, hearings and other proceedings in Cleveland’s Justice Center Complex, which includes a courthouse and a jail. Along the way, they interviewed judges, prosecutors, defendants, inmates and others who find themselves entwined in the criminal justice system.

Throughout the series, Koenig returns to the fact that it’s difficult to obtain data about what methods of policing, sentencing and other aspects of criminal justice are most effective. The lack of data also surfaced in the conversation with Berkman.

“Part of the hugely frustrating thing we saw in Ohio, but I think this is again true in lots of parts of the country, there’s no data, we don’t keep data on this stuff,” Koenig said. “Nobody is tracking outcome for when is probation in our jurisdiction proving effective? When are people starting to slide off and violate more and more?”

Koenig discussed where college students should focus their attention if they want to move the needle on criminal justice reform.

“If you’re asking where you can make a difference, boy, wouldn’t it be fantastic to have the smartest, most compassionate, most energetic brains be working on juvenile crime,” Koenig said.

New episodes of Democracy Works are released each Monday and available at or any of the major podcast apps.

This is a press release which we link to from our daily newsletter about podcasting and on-demand. This is reprinted verbatim; we may rewrite headlines and descriptions. Press releases can be sent to


Democracy Works
By Penn State McCourtney Institute for Democracy/The Democracy Group

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