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Inimai Chettiar
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Inimai M. Chettiar is the Director of the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. The Justice Program seeks to secure our nation’s promise of "equal justice for all" by creating a rational and fair legal system. It proposes and works to enact data-driven policy and legal reforms aimed at ending unnecessary incarceration and closing the justice gap for low-income Americans.

Ms. Chettiar focuses on using economics and cost-benefit analysis to demonstrate that helping struggling communities can help the entire country achieve prosperity. She advocates that government should make policy choices based the economic and societal costs and benefits they produce. She received this training at NYU Law School’s Institute for Policy Integrity, where she led legal projects that used cost-benefit analysis to reform a variety of federal laws.

Most recently, Ms. Chettiar applied these practices to help create and coordinate the American Civil Liberties Union’s nationwide state legislative Initiative to End Overincarceration. In 2011, she was selected by the Center for American Progress as a fellow for her groundbreaking leadership on the intersection of race and economics.

Her reform efforts and publications have been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic,, NPR, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, The Guardian, Forbes, and other outlets. She has published extensively on economic policy, criminal law reform, and racial inequalities.

Entries by Inimai Chettiar

Tonight's Debate: We Need to Talk About Mass Incarceration

(1) Comments | Posted November 14, 2015 | 9:30 AM

As the Democratic presidential candidates prepare for Saturday's debate in Des Moines, they should consider themselves fortunate in one respect. They no longer have to outdo each other to prove how tough they are on crime. Gone are the days when then-Gov. Bill Clinton left the campaign trail in 1992...

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Next President Should Support Plan to Reverse Mass Incarceration

(16) Comments | Posted October 13, 2015 | 4:43 PM

As Democratic presidential candidates debate policy views on Tuesday, we will likely hear much about how these progressive leaders differ from Republicans. Presidential campaigns, and debates in particular, are rarely times to promote bipartisanship.

But there is an issue around which both Democrats and Republicans have recently coalesced: America has...

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Republican Candidates Should Debate Criminal Justice Reforms

(4) Comments | Posted August 5, 2015 | 6:07 PM

For a few days this week, Fox News’ Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly, and Chris Wallace will have more influence on the 2016 election than anyone else. Politicians are not keen on taking stances on hot button issues without a push. They either hem and haw or cling to the party...

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A Tyrant? Not Exactly...

(0) Comments | Posted August 29, 2014 | 3:43 PM

Co-authored by Abigail Finkelman, Justice Program Assistant at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law

With Congress mired in gridlock, President Obama has vowed to use "a pen and a phone" to accomplish some of his policy goals. Last week, he doubled down by promising...

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Preventing Future Fergusons

(0) Comments | Posted August 22, 2014 | 9:36 PM

This post was co-authored by Abigail Finkelman, Program Assistant in the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.

The events unfolding in Missouri have brought all eyes on the issue of law enforcement practices. Racial disparities in our justice system abound. But there...

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Expanded Clemency Program Deserves Bipartisan Support

(0) Comments | Posted June 2, 2014 | 2:48 PM

Co-authored by Nicole Fortier, Counsel in the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice.

In a speech last month, Ohio Senator Rob Portman took a step toward placing his party firmly behind meaningful efforts to roll back mass incarceration in America. Portman, a respected voice of the...

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A Funding Model to Tip the Scales of Justice: Success Oriented Funding

(0) Comments | Posted March 5, 2014 | 3:03 PM

Co-authored by Marc Levin, director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation

In the past, the right has called the left "soft on crime," and the left has, in turn, accused its opponents of being "heartless." But both sides now recognize that significant reforms to...

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Governors Propose Solutions to End Mass Incarceration

(0) Comments | Posted January 28, 2014 | 11:16 AM

Coauthored with Nicole Fortier

Last week, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie gave his second inaugural address. Buffeted by allegations of wrongdoing related to the "bridgegate" scandal, and having just fired top aides in an effort to close the book on a terrible January for his administration, the governor needed to...

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Voters Need More Than Fiscal Arguments on Social Justice Issues

(3) Comments | Posted November 26, 2012 | 7:28 AM

As analysts continue to pore over the election's results, there are valuable lessons for those who seek to reform government. Perhaps the most important case study is California's referendum to abolish the death penalty, where strong fiscal arguments did not sway voters.

California is in its worst fiscal crisis....

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Data Reveals Obama Held the White Vote

(1) Comments | Posted November 19, 2012 | 9:49 AM

The election demonstrated to all Americans the shifting demographics of the country. However, the narrative in many homes and on television has been that President Obama won "without the white vote." CNN reported, for example, that exit polls showed 39 percent of white voters casting ballots...

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A Vote for American Ideals

(7) Comments | Posted November 9, 2012 | 4:22 PM

When the American people reelected President Barack Obama, they signaled that their vision of the United States is one of inclusion, optimism, and an understanding of the legitimate role of government in helping the country achieve prosperity. Americans do not dream small or think narrowly. This vision of our country...

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Don't Believe the Violent Crime Hype

(5) Comments | Posted October 30, 2012 | 12:05 PM

This piece is co-written by Jim Lyons, Senior Editor at the Brennan Center.

It's that time of year again. No, not carving pumpkins, watching college football, or biting nails over the Presidential election. This month is when the government releases the two most widely cited annual reports about crime.


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Education and Incarceration: Beyond 'Affirmative Action'

(22) Comments | Posted October 12, 2012 | 2:08 PM

This week’s Supreme Court oral argument in Fisher v. Texas showed the Justices’ focus on the technical interpretation of the equal protection clause of the Constitution. Over the last twenty-four hours, legal and political commentators have hotly debated the validity and meaning of the concept of “critical mass” as...

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Debate Reality Check: We Can't Cut Our Way to Prosperity

(29) Comments | Posted October 4, 2012 | 10:54 AM

As political commentators discuss Obama's lack of eye contact and Romney's unexpected charisma, it would serve us well to refocus on the substantive issues facing our country. Every topic covered in last night's debate -- from taxes to education to healthcare to rebuilding the middle class -- focused on the...

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Debtors' Prisons Make the Poor Poorer

(12) Comments | Posted September 5, 2012 | 9:00 AM

Co-authored by Roopal Patel

The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times recently reported on a growing national trend in states and cities to raise and aggressively collect criminal justice fees. And as we've explained, the government often jails people who...

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New York's Innovative Solution to Crime: Betting on Success

(4) Comments | Posted August 21, 2012 | 3:43 PM

Coauthored with Bruce Reilly

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently announced a new initiative that could save government money, decrease the crime rate and strengthen urban communities. Global investment bank Goldman Sachs will invest $10 million in a program to reduce recidivism among released adolescent prisoners at...

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What's Ahead for California's Prison Crisis?

(7) Comments | Posted July 31, 2012 | 12:02 PM

Co-authored with Mark Ladov

California is again at a crossroads in managing its over-bloated prison population. The decision in a case pending in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals could affect whether California becomes a success story in reforming its criminal justice system.

The Brennan Center for Justice, the...

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'Tough on Crime' No Longer the American Mantra?

(1) Comments | Posted May 2, 2012 | 4:00 PM

Coauthored by Alex Stamm

Politicians over the last quarter-century have held strong to the conventional wisdom that being "tough on crime" will win elections and appease the public's appetite for safety. And for the most part, it seems Americans did feel this way (if you don't think so, just ask...

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Supreme Court Says Jails Can Strip Search You - Even for Traffic Violations

(274) Comments | Posted April 6, 2012 | 3:37 PM

On Monday, a divided Supreme Court ruled in Florence v. Burlington that any person arrested can be subject to a strip search -- even for a minor offense or traffic violation -- without any reason to suspect that they may be carrying a weapon or contraband.

As disturbing as...

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Why Mass Incarceration Really Is The New Jim Crow

(460) Comments | Posted February 24, 2012 | 4:47 PM

I spent this past New Year's Eve lying on the floor of a New England police station. Just hours before, I was enjoying sushi with my best friend Jamal; excitedly discussing his possible political appointment and promising career.

On our way home, we were pulled over for driving 37...

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